Movie trilogies can be as depressing as they are predictable. But The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second film derived from Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy of thriller novels, has a strong advantage. Let’s call it the Better Because It’s Swedish Effect, or B.B.I.S.E. for short. This is the phenomenon whereby the world welcomes 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.
Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby: Noomi Rapace plays Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film adaptations of deceased journalist Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy. American studios will soon take a crack a the bestselling novels.
With that baseline of credibility, it’s not a big deal that the second part of the series disappoints when compared to the first. In other words, screenwriter Jonas Frykberg and director Daniel Alfredson haven’t even bothered trying to top The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and that’s fine. Why is it fine? B.B.I.S.E.
The main characters are Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), your everyday back-tatted, nose-pierced, leather-clad, tech-savvy, bisexual punk badass with a brutally lousy childhood who happens to be beautiful. She rolls with Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist)—a crusading journalist likely based on Larsson himself—who believes in Salander, and slept with her in the first episode of the series.
Instead of investigating a series of bizarre murders as they do in Dragon Tattoo, Blomkvist investigates an accused ring of sex traffickers while Salander—who has monitored his hard drive since their last crusade a year earlier—plots their brutal retribution. So as not to spoil the plot, I’ll just account for some of what more it contains, in alphabetical order: boxing, brooding, electronic communication, human trafficking, lesbian sex, motorcycle riding, muckraking journalism, murder and phone calls.
There is also a thuggish blond oaf who can’t feel pain, and his boss, a sinister, mysterious and hideous figure called Zala. Lest these characters seem like Ian Fleming castoffs, the movie takes pains to give them backstories. The book takes greater and deeper pains, of course, but that’s partly because Larsson 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 way of always cooling down. Maybe it’s a symptom of B.B.I.S.E.
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, for whatever reason, The Girl Who Played with Fire seems almost anti-inflammatory. It’s like a couple Advil. It’ll turn down your headache, and thin your blood. Don’t take it on an empty stomach.