The Girl is back

Part two of the adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy is more entertaining than first segment.

Noomi Rapace stars as Listbeth, <i>The Girl … With the Dragon Tattoo</i>, … <i>Who Played with Fire,</i> and … <i>Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest</i>.

Noomi Rapace stars as Listbeth, The Girl … With the Dragon Tattoo, … Who Played with Fire, and … Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

The Girl Who Played With Fire
Starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist. Directed by Daniel Alfredson. Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 3.0

This is the middle segment in the trilogy of films adapted from Stieg Larsson’s Millenium crime-novel series.

Title character and talismanic anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), she of the dragon tattoo, is of course back for more action, both as femme-punk avenger of abused women and freelance computer-hacking detective. And so is Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), crusading investigative journalist and occasional (but always opportune) collaborator, lover, aide and protector to Salander.

This segment takes up a new case involving the murders of two researchers who are on the trail of further corruption among Sweden’s patriarchal power elite, this time in the form of the sex-slave black market. And Salander continues on with some of the unfinished personal business from the Dragon Tattoo segment, especially that pertaining to her abusive parole officer/guardian Bjurman, but also to a couple of key figures from her own fiery past and childhood in particular.

The Fire segment is self-contained in most respects but it too leaves some of its business unfinished. Apparently, the menacing blond giant Niederman and the elusive Russian Zalachenko, who figure doubly in Blomkvist’s investigations and Salander’s backstory, will get further crucial attention in the third and final segment (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), which is due for release in the U.S. later this month.

Even with its transitional middle-ground status, The Girl Who Played With Fire makes a better case for itself as pungently muckraking entertainment than did its predecessor. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, tended to wallow in the very abuses that it ostensibly sought to condemn. Fire, with a different director (Daniel Alfredson) and a different screenwriter (Jonas Frykberg) in place, works as lively and compelling genre entertainment without any loss of integrity with the tale’s hot-button hooks and none-too-subtle subtexts.

Rapace is once again a ferociously indelible presence as Salander. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role, but apparently the people involved in the planned American remakes of the series are going to give it a try.

Blomkvist, also a figure of tacit fantasy but from the other side of the series’ pseudo-realistic coin, takes on a little more ambiguity and credibility as a character in Fire, with Nykvist’s understated performance hinting at Blomkvist’s partial implication in the corrosive sexual politics of the trilogy’s corruption.

Fire also has the benefit of a set of secondary characters who take somewhat livelier form this time around. Erika Berger (Lena Endre), Blomkvist’s colleague/lover/enabler, and Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi), Salander’s part-time girlfriend, are particularly noteworthy among the holdovers, and Swedish cinema veteran Per Oscarsson has a gently haunting cameo as a rare Salander sympathizer among the story’s aged patriarchs.