Saturday, December 17, 2011

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Man, this one started unpromisingly! Imagine you’re the writer of a ridiculously successive pair of novels featuring an iconic, kick-ass heroine. You sit down to start work on volume three. What do you do: have your iconic, kick-ass heroine taking the fight to the various individuals who have conspired against her throughout her life, or have her laid up in a hospital bed while a rumpled middle-aged reporter pursues the same kind of plodding investigation he undertook in the previous books?

Me, I’d have gone with the former. Larsson – and director Daniel Alfredson – opt for the latter. Thus, the first half of ‘The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ has Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) even more backgrounded than in the previous instalments, recovering in hospital prior as the public prosecutor puts together a case against her courtesy of those pesky fingerprints on Bjurman’s gun from ‘The Girl who Played with Fire’, while Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) unravels an ever-wider-reaching conspiracy against her.

The next problem is that the nature of the aforementioned conspiracy is detailed in endlessly boring scenes of old men in suits sitting around in blandly anonymous rooms talking in hushed tones. Imagine a third-rate John le Carre homage delivered with all the dynamism of a party political broadcast and that’s basically how the first half of ‘The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ plays out.

A double-assassination attempt at the hospital and some mounting pressure against the staff at Millennium (Blomkvist is racing against time to publish a special edition blowing the lid off it all before the powers that be can have Lisbeth sectioned again) enliven things slightly, but the absence of Salander as a pro-active character drains the life out of the proceedings.

As the second half got underway, with the trial looming, I could feel my will to live evaporating. Full disclosure: with the exception of a couple of Sidney Lumet films, I can’t stand courtroom dramas. By their very nature, they make for a static and visually uninteresting drama.

My surprise was palpable, then, when things pepped up no end, the legal shenanigans juxtaposed with an official investigation against the conspirators. The courtroom scenes, while betraying an absolute lack of realism (so much new and illegally obtained evidence introduced at the last minute without the judge batting an eyelid? are they really that liberal in Sweden?), benefit from Salander’s powers of photographic and verbatim recall. Her reduction of the prosecutor to bamboozled idiot is beautiful to behold, as is the arrest of a key prosecution witness, hauled out of court on child pornography charges.

A coda wrapping up the almost obligatory loose end finally gives Salander the chance to kick out the jambs in the action stakes. All told, though, ‘The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ is as big a plod as it’s immediate predecessor, and a not a patch on the watchable (but hugely overrated) ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. Here’s to David Fincher giving things a shot in the arm!

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