Movies: The Girl Who Played with Fire * * *
16, Limited release
Though marred somewhat by an extended and gratuitous rape/torture scene, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was one of the most widely praised films of last year.
It was the first of a trilogy of adaptations of the crime novels of the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, and in this second instalment we catch up with intrepid investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and the tattooed girl herself, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace).
In the first film, they teamed up to catch a serial killer on a remote Swedish island, and in this one Lisbeth returns from a long bout of travelling to confront an old enemy.
Abused horribly as a child after being placed in foster care, Lisbeth was attacked and raped in the first film by her supposed legal guardian, an odious lawyer called Bjurman. She returns to Sweden when she finds out Bjurman's been breaking the terms of their subsequent agreement. But when he's found murdered, she becomes the police's prime suspect. Blomkvist is almost alone in believing that she's innocent and when he starts investigating, he discovers a link to a mysterious underworld figure called Zala.
One of Blomkvist's young associates has been working on a story involving the trafficking of teenage girls for prostitution, and when he and his girlfriend are murdered it appears to be the work of a giant, blond assassin.
All suspicions point to Zala, but Blomkvist is struggling to locate him, and, meanwhile, Lisbeth is on a manhunt of her own that will solve some of the grim mysteries of her childhood.
One of the great strengths of the first film was the onscreen charisma between Nyqvist and Rapace. Both are very fine screen actors, and very well cast. But in The Girl Who Played with Fire, they are kept apart until the very end of the film, communicating only occasionally and obliquely by terse texts and emails.
This is a drawback for Nyqvist, for without the disturbed and edgy Lisbeth to bounce off, he's left with nowhere to go.
The story, too, is problematic, and some elements feel like aspects of one of Ian Fleming's feebler spy novels.
It's watchable, and at times entertaining, but pretty ordinary stuff overall.