The only instalment of the trilogy whose English title is anywhere near an accurate translation from the Swedish, ‘The Girl who Played with Fire’ is even more disappointing than its predecessor in backgrounding the fascinating Lisbeth Salander (played to perfection by Noomi Rapace) in favour of a plodding journalistic investigation undertaken by the hangdog Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist). It also disappoints in that Daniel Alfredson’s direction isn’t a patch on Niels Arden Oplev’s and the entire production betrays its made-for-TV roots so shabbily that it makes ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ look like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
The next problem requires me to hoist the jolly SPOILER ALERT for a paragraph.
‘Dragon Tattoo’ ended with the much-misused Lisbeth fiscally benefiting from the downfall of Blomqvist’s corporate nemesis and sunning herself in the Caribbean on the proceeds. Which, after all the shit she’d gone through, seemed only fair (if a tad deus ex machina-ish). Thus ‘Played with Fire’ opens with some extended and not particularly interesting business regarding her return to Stockholm, her acquisition of property, and her loaning out of an apartment to a lesbian entrepreneur who owns a sex shop (cue graphic and narratively pointless – but, if I’m being honest – still very watchable girl-girl scene). She also checks up on the loathsome Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) in a tortuously contrived sequence, the only purpose of which is to get her prints on a gun.
(Lower the jolly SPOILER, first mate!)
Meanwhile, Millennium magazine have hired wannabe crusading journalist Dag Svensson (Hans Christian Thulin) who wants to blow the lid on a prostitution ring uncovered by his girlfriend Mia (Jennie Silfverhjelm) whilst researching her thesis. Dag and Mia are trying to track down the shadowy “Zala”, reputed to be the sex trade kingpin; Blomqvist throws in his tuppence-ha’penny worth by confronting some of the men who have availed themselves of Zala’s service.
No sooner does Blomqvist discover a link to Lisbeth than Dag and Mia are murdered. Blomqvist hurriedly tries to make contact with Lisbeth, unaware that their parallel courses are about to … yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah.
‘Played with Fire’ desultorily sketches out two narrative arcs that are so depressingly derivative that it’s almost impossible to care by the time the overwrought and laughably ludicrous finale roles around. (How ludicrous? Imagine the “lonely grave of Paula Schultz” sequence from ‘Kill Bill Vol 2’ redone without Tarantino’s knowing sense of irony, throw in a Bond villain type cipher who’s blond, Aryan, built like a brick shithouse and incapable of feeling pain, then have Blomqvist walk manfully into the middle of the whole farrago as if he were Clint Eastwood.)
If ‘ Dragon Tattoo’ was little more than bad Agatha Christie with rape scenes, then the touchstone for ‘Played with Fire’ is more along the lines of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. If I’m spoiling anything by referring to this as the “Lisbeth, I am your father” episode, then I make no apologies whatsoever. There is one standout scene, dealing with Lisbeth’s clinical take-down of a couple of bikers, and it’s pretty cool to watch Rapace capitalizing on the victim-turned-angel-of-vengeance personification of Salander from the first movie and turn her into an authentic kick-ass action heroine.
That said, I’m not holding out much hope for ‘The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’.