If watching The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo made you fall in love with Goth heroine Lisbeth Salander, the Swedish sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire (Flicken some lekte med elden) will deepen the relationship.
It rounds up the usual suspects and key actors, including Michael Nyqvist as Michael Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace as Salander, plus some fresh faces. While the first film introduced audiences to the 20-something antisocial computer-hacker genius Lisbeth, the sequel digs up her disturbed childhood and dysfunctional family tree with deadly consequences. After meeting her sociopath wife-beating papa, Zalachenko, her sullenness makes perfect sense. The trip down memory lane also unearths new foes and allies such as her old friend, Swedish boxer Paolo Roberto (as himself). It also rekindles Salander’s romance with lesbian lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi). The plot seems designed to peel back Lisbeth’s tattooed tough-girl skin for a peek into how and why she ticks, and kicks ass.
Based, like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, on Swedish journalist Steig Larsson’s book trilogy, this installment begins with the requisite moral crusade. Freelancer Dag Svensson has sold liberal watchdog Millennium magazine on a juicy story that implicates upstanding members of Swedish society in the sex trade. When Dag and his girlfriend/fellow researcher are mysteriously murdered, charismatic Millennium front man Blomkvist (the literary alter ego of Larsson who was a real-world expert on exposing social evils) takes over their investigation. To make matters worse and more thrilling, the murder weapon has Salander’s fingerprints on it. While the media milks the salaciousness of a pierced, brooding femme fatale on front-page “Wanted” features, Salander and loyal ally Blomkvist don’t hesitate to play with fire (i.e. crazed killers and corrupt officials) in their race to discover the true murderer and clear her name. And all evidence points them to Salander’s father, Soviet defector and Swedish secret police (aka SAPO) consultant Alexander Zalachenko.
Per usual in this misogynist universe, Salander takes on a number of brutes twice her size, including Ronald Niedermann, a blond hulk that’s oblivious to pain (not just others, his own). Her predatory court-appointed guardian, Bjurman, is also back -- though this time the tables have turned as he struggles to slip out from under his ward’s thumb.
Directed by Daniel Alfredson, the film, like its predecessor, flawlessly flows from the page to the screen and stays impressively true to the novel. It has little of the atmospheric luster of Niels Arden Oplev’s adaptation but all of the gritty, de-glammed realism and violence with a shade more humor. Alfredson makes the most out of Salander’s signature move -- the crotch taser -- and Larsson’s nod to zombies. Rapace is as captivating and resilient as ever. As in most sequels there’s a little less of the rush of a new encounter, and less chemistry between Salander and Blomkvist as they spend most of the movie on parallel paths. With a larger helping of backstory threaded into the narrative the intrigue might also not be as neatly orchestrated and explained, especially for those not familiar with part one of the trilogy. But for fans of the books and first film, The Girl Who Played With Fire still brings the dramatic sizzle and makes one wonder why Hollywood filmmakers who plan to reinvent the franchise are so sure they can do better.