The second in the Girl Who trilogy suffers from the same problems that its predecessor did, with its tendency of leaning toward the outsized and outlandish. The draw of the first movie is lost somewhat here, too, as the cast of characters is not limited by the machinations of the plot, and therefore the gripping question of who is behind everything becomes much less essential than the need to stay one step ahead of the police.
The Girl Who Played with Fire opens with yellow journalist Mikael Blomkvist and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander having been apart since their time together before. Lip service is payed to a sex-trafficking conspiracy that some shady government employees are party to, but the plot soon turns into a chase for Salander. She is implicated in several deaths, and once again if you are looking for an explanation of how this is so easily accomplished by the baddies, you’re asking the wrong questions.
What makes this film easier to keep at a distance is the fact that some of the characters come across, as many before me have noted, more like Bond villains than actual people. In particular, there is one character who stands over six feet tall and shows no reaction to being punched, kicked, and so on. He’s a monster that doesn’t speak or react, and I found myself comparing him to the cartoon-ish Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. This is a surprisingly apt comparison, it seems, as IMDb Trivia tells me that Lundgren was the first choice for the role. This character is not the only absurd one that appears in this installment of the series, but he is the most prominent.
I don’t want to give the impression that I disliked this film. It’s nearly as enjoyable as the first, but those holes that were easy to ignore before are more visible here. The A.V. Club’s review correctly points out that this installment “draws in too many underdeveloped outsiders.” Indeed, there are a host of secondary characters that show up and don’t seem to serve much of a purpose. Perhaps this is just a matter of a poor translation from book to screen, but one that sticks out most of all is a supposedly famous boxer who somehow knows Lisbeth. He is in and out of the movie within ten minutes and his short time on-screen only serves to drive home the point that people are out to get Salander and anybody she knows.
The thrilling climax of the first film is easily matched by that of the second, and reminds me strongly of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 2. And not just because both films feature as their central character a determined female victim who performs feats of heroics in order to exact a revenge that she has deemed morally justified based on past injustices exacted against her person. The feeling of both films is similar, the sense that everything is coming to a head – that some ultimate battle is going down and only one person can walk out alive.
Looking through some of the images of the film from IMDb reminds me that there are several thrilling sequences wherein Salander slips past those who are trying to get to her, be they the police officers who believe that she has committed a triple-homicide, or the criminals who know that she’s out to take them down. There’s a great scene where our heroine faces two tough bikers in the woods, staying collected and silent while they approach her menacingly. In another instance, she ambushes a man involved with the sex-trafficking and leaves him humiliated and defeated. These are all quite memorable moments that leave me thinking back on The Girl Who Played with Fire with fondness, and the fact that the cheesy final moments of the first movie are replaced here with a somber and open-ended conclusion is an added benefit.
But then, Lisbeth’s back-story, which is expanded on considerably in this installment, is decidedly one-dimensional. If you saw the flashback in the first movie where a young Lisbeth throws gasoline onto a man smirking in an automobile and thought you had a pretty good idea of what her reasoning was, you were probably right. Returning to the A.V. Club’s review, it is said that “this time out, the mystery being tackled… is less personal”. A funny thing to say, given that this movie delves into Salander’s life more explicitly than the first movie did. But the first movie hinted at shades of the Salander character. The gasoline flashback, coupled with intentionally shutting down Blomkvist’s questions about her memorization skills, gave life to a deeper secret that drives the character’s actions. Here, though, everything seems to be explained in the vaguest of terms. Despite the fact that the movie is much more about Lisbeth (Blomkvist inhabits a B-story trying to play catch-up), we don’t know much more about her by the end.
Maybe that’s not as much of a problem as it seems, when the movies are just trying to be awesome fun. They definitely accomplish that, but frustrate at the same time by suggesting something much more complex at work and never quite delivering.