The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)
(If you haven’t watched Dragon Tattoo, I suggest you bookmark this page for later, as there will be spoilers.)
The second movie opens with Lisbeth traveling the world, “enjoying” the money that she acquired when we last saw her. Mikael Blomkvist and his team are meanwhile investigating a human sex trafficking scandal that threaten to expose several high-ranking and prominent individuals. Along the way, Lisbeth gets implicated and we learn more about her past.
While Noomi Rapace continues to do a terrific job playing the titular role, Played with Fire simply isn’t as engaging as Dragon Tattoo. It doesn’t hold the same kind of intrigue and multi-faceted complexity, leaving you with an experience that feels like it’s missing something. And the ending really makes you feel like it’s incomplete… because it is.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2009)
Whereas Dragon Tattoo felt like it could be a self-contained movie, that wasn’t the case with Played with Fire. Instead, it felt like an extended TV episode, leaving you waiting for its conclusion. In that sense, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is almost the second half of a single movie.
Whereas the first two movies are better classified as thrillers with some notable violence, Hornet’s Nest ends up being more of a legal drama. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that Lisbeth gets accused of a crime and nearly the entirety of the film is about her legal defense. (Aside: don’t you think her attorney looks like Jodie Foster?)
The pacing is too slow and the revelations don’t offer any shock value. While there are many great courtroom dramas out there, Hornet’s Nest comes up very short and the only reason why you’d want to watch it is to get the satisfaction of completing the trilogy.
Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy
So, what are we to make when you look at the three films as a cohesive whole? I’d say that the Millennium Trilogy confirms the conventional wisdom that sequels are rarely better than the originals.
The trilogy started off with an intriguing bang. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was full of depth, getting you to dive into the storied past of a family. You get immersed in the intricate details surrounding Lisbeth and Mikael. And then it all starts to go downhill. Played with Fire gives you some of that, but leaves something to be desired, and then Hornet’s Nest lacks any sort of real buzz. If it were not for Dragon Tattoo, I’m not sure I would have given the second and third films as high a rating as I have.
Now, it makes me wonder if David Fincher’s Americanized version of these two films will be any better. I haven’t read the books, but I’ve heard that the quality and entertainment value of the source material degrades in much the same way as the accompanying Swedish films. That’s a shame, really, seeing how much promise Dragon Tattoo provided.