Better because it’s Swedish
The Girl Who Played With Fire
The progress of any given movie trilogy, like that of ubiquitous, faddish best sellers, can be as depressing as it is predictable. Somewhere along the line, the thrill of the common experience shrivels into the embarrassment of commonness: One is confronted with the possibility of being a lemming, of lacking any taste of one’s own. Usually that somewhere is in the middle.
But The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second film derived from Stieg Larsson’s trilogy of thriller novels, has a strong advantage. Let’s call it the Better Because It’s Swedish Effect (BBISE for short). This is the phenomenon whereby, for the foreseeable future, the world should welcome any new cinematic event issued from the land of Ingmar Bergman—even if, by comparison to the late, great master’s impossibly high example, it disappoints.
With that kind of credibility boost, a film that disappoints by comparison to its own predecessor really has nothing to worry about. In other words, screenwriter Jonas Frykberg and director Daniel Alfredson haven’t even bothered trying to top The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which they didn’t make, nor to keep us from feeling like lemmings for lining up to see their relatively unfocused, uninvested sequel anyway. And that’s just fine. Why is it fine? Chalk it up to the BBISE. Even the most bedraggled material can be made to seem classy with a little bit of the BBISE.
So as not to spoil the plot, I’ll just account for some of what it contains, in alphabetical order: achieved murder, attempted murder, boxing, brooding, electronic communication, human trafficking, lesbian sex, motorcycle riding, muckraking journalism, phone calls. The perceived ratio of the mundane to the titillating will vary according to individual viewers’ proclivities, but still the Swedishness makes the whole package more compelling overall.
The main characters are Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), your average everyday pouting bisexual back-tatted nose-pierced leather-clad tech-savvy punk badass who happens to be beautiful with a brutally lousy childhood; and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a journalist who believes in her (and once slept with her). They have returned from the previous film and remain inherently watchable.
The less main characters include Lisbeth’s special friend (Yasmine Garbi), and her less special parole officer (Peter Andersson), who will be familiar from Dragon Tattoo as well. There is also a thuggish blond oaf who can’t feel pain (Micke Spreitz), and his boss, a sinister and mysterious and hideous figure called Zala (Georgi Staykov). Lest these new secondaries seem merely like Ian Fleming castoffs, the movie takes pains to give them back stories. The book takes greater and deeper pains, of course, but that’s partly because Larsson just loved him some sadism.
Anyway, yes, it all has a perfunctory, transitory, middle-of-a-trilogy quality. I was going to say it has sequelitis, but (a) that is not a real word, and (b) even as a fake word it’s misleading, as “itis” implies inflammation, which, although thematically appropriate what with the “fire” and all, isn’t accurate on account of the movie’s peculiar way of always cooling itself down. Maybe that too has to do with the BBISE. Sweden does stretch into the Arctic Circle, you know. And Lisbeth does spend quite a lot of time curled up in her window, posing with a cigarette and taking in her hibernal city view.
But the point is that The Girl Who Played With Fire seems almost anti-inflammatory. It’s like a pair of Advil. It’ll turn down your headache and thin your blood. Don’t take it on an empty stomach.
Do, however, bear in mind that this whole trilogy soon will be filmed again, with its central roles reprised in English by an as yet undetermined actress and Daniel Craig for director David Fincher. That effort will be a good test of whether lemmings ever feel ambivalence. It will come with a quadruple whammy of built-in resistibility, since it’s popular to begin with, a book that became a movie, a remake and thoroughly Hollywoodized. But what is most important, and perhaps will be most clarifying, is that it won’t have the BBISE.