Having reviewed both the first movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the second, The Girl Who Played with Fire, I would strongly recommend that readers, who have come fresh to the trilogy, start with the first of those reviews. Similarly, those who have only seen the first movie should read the review for the second and then see that, before moving on to the third. It should be noted that, whilst the first movie was largely stand-alone in terms of story, and served mainly to introduce us to the characters who would then populate the second and third parts, the remaining chapters in the trilogy actually form one big story themselves, and are thus pretty-much inseparable. In my opinion, and in my conclusion for the review of the second movie, I stated that the best way to fully appreciate the sequels would be to watch them back-to-back. It turns out that this assumption was correct.
As a brief introduction, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the first book in the late Stieg Larsson’s Magnum Opus, dubbed the ‘Millennium Trilogy’. It was a smart and superior thriller, a compelling page-turner which soon became an international bestseller, translated for sales across the globe. A film adaptation of the trilogy was inevitable (as was the upcoming Hollywood remake), but thankfully the Swedish original was successful enough to garner popular international appeal, despite its being in a foreign language. The first chapter, Dragon Tattoo was a laudable and respectful translation of the material, a great movie based on a great book. It perfectly infused an elaborate plot with interesting, well-developed characters brought to life by stellar performances; and it made for one of the best murder mystery thrillers over the last few years. Although the first book/film was relatively stand-alone, rounding off everything very satisfactorily and leaving no urgent need to return to the characters or story arcs – as largely everything had been resolved; it was nevertheless but one part in a trilogy, and it was in the second chapter where the ‘bigger picture’ becomes devastatingly clear. That said, the second and third chapters largely formed one cohesive whole, and so not all of the answers would come until you had finished the final part of the trilogy.
Recapping the first movie (not that you need it as it is a largely independent narrative from the second and third) the story followed Journalist Mikael Blomkvist, a partner in the Millennium publications group, who was investigating an old missing persons case at the behest of an ageing millionaire. He was assisted by a freelance research analyst, Lisbeth Salander, a striking, aloof, goth-dressed computer hacker with a dark past and a violent temper, who proved to be a vital companion to Blomkvist. He, in turn, showed himself to be one of the few people in the world that she could actually trust. Together they solved the mystery, but the story concluded with Lisbeth stealing a large chunk of blood money and escaping to far-off sunny climes. This was a fairly satisfying ending to a compelling mystery thriller, but it was not the last that we would see from these colourful characters.
Where Dragon Tattoo was almost more about Mikael Blomkvist’s investigative journalist than Lisbeth Salander’s research analyst, Played with Fire reversed the trend, now positing her previously-introduced heroine as the focal point of the story; picking up with her living off her ill-gotten gains, having severed her connections with the past for over a year. But after being targeted by a mysterious group and framed for the murder of several people, Lisbeth had to put her life on the line once again, and use all of her cunning and intellect to keep one step ahead of not only those who were hunting her, but also the authorities who were after her. By coincidence, two of the people she was accused of murdering were journalists working with Blomkvist on a joint-investigation to uncover a large sex slave ring, with ties to politicians, the police and even a mysterious Russian spy who defected to Sweden several decades back, so this time it was Lisbeth who needed Blomkvist’s help in clearing her name and getting to the truth behind it all, a dark revelation which was far bigger than either of them expected.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest(the original Swedish title translates into: The Castles in the Sky that were Blown Up) begins, as the second chapter did, with a little flashback-based recap, and then continues the main story immediately after the events in the last film, with Lisbeth recovering in hospital. Meanwhile Blomkvist must continue his mission to prove Lisbeth innocent, now investigating the men behind everything that has been going on, a group which he later dubs “The Section” – a group which operates under the radar of both the authorities and the Government itself and threatens to silence not only Lisbeth, but actually the Millennium publications group too. The Section realise that things have gotten out to hand and, with Lisbeth heading towards a big trial, that could blow the lid on their unauthorised operations, decide to take a different approach – they are going to discredit her evidence, and challenge her very sanity, with a view to hopefully seeing her put back into the same asylum she was forced to go to as a child. Will Lisbeth ever be free of the evil hands that have been manipulating her for most of her life? And will the truth ever come out about “The Section”?
I was initially a little disappointed when I saw the preceding movie, the first sequel – The Girl Who Played with Fire. Not because it wasn’t a good movie – it was certainly packed with more action and ‘events’ than even the first Millennium story – but because it was open-ended and thus quite anticlimactic: since it was merely the first part of what was essentially a two-part story, it felt fairly unsatisfying. How did this happen? Well, the background is that only the first book, Dragon Tattoo, was made into an actual movie; the remaining two books were filmed as a four-part mini-series and then spliced together into two separate feature-length movies. Thus they were never really intended to be watched separately. After being shocked by this arguably foolish approach I took it upon myself to spread the word that the best thing to do was watch the two sequels back-to-back. The benefit to this is that story arc elements introduced at the very beginning of Played with Fire, and left totally unresolved by its conclusion, carried on seamlessly with the continuation into Hornet’s Nest. You see, it’s one big investigation that Blomkvist carries out, not two separate ones.
If you haven’t seen Played with Fire recently, then the beginning of this third film may feel a little disjointed – the story moves at breakneck pace as old characters are dispatched, and new characters introduced. Eventually what we get to see is Lisbeth’s murder trial play out, as Blomkvist races against time to prove the existence and influence of “The Section” and thus the innocence of Lisbeth. With members of his team dead, Blomkvist makes some uneasy Governmental alliances – in a bid to get to the truth – and similarly Lisbeth finds that being confined to a hospital/police custody restricts her ability to do the investigative work herself, instead enlisting the help of a kindly doctor, her old hacker buddy Plague (from the first movie), and a top lawyer who Blomkvist recommends.
Hornet’s Nestalso redresses the balance between the two main protagonists, once again. As with the first movie, this story is very much about Blomkvist’s investigation, with Lisbeth simmering in the background, saying almost nothing until she gets to trial – and, even then, biding her time until the big guns come out. Of course she gets her own personal resolution – involving that man-mountain introduced in the second movie, a Bond-style henchman, who even has a rare disease that means that he feels no pain, and who, ultimately, proves to be Lisbeth’s toughest physical nemesis – but it’s just a book-end on what is essentially a slow-burning courtroom drama.
Unlike the first two stories, Hornet’s Nest offers up very few surprise revelations – they have all happened already, and this is all about closure. Now that’s a good approach, but taking the best part of two and a half hours to get to that closure is, at times, somewhat excessive. The ending – for the first time in the trilogy – is a foregone conclusion. You’re never really worried about Lisbeth’s trial, she’s been sitting on the evidence for two-and-a-half films now, and so the time taken over the back-and-forth machinations between prosecution and defence feels even more protracted and unnecessary. And, at the end of the day, Lisbeth’s hospitalisation and slow rehabilitation is nothing more than a tedious aspect of the story, further padding things out.
Noomi Rapace is still good as Lisbeth Salander, but she’s not as striking as in the first two movies. I don’t mean visually – here she’s more punk than ever, complete with a Mohican – but they just don’t build her character at all. Perhaps they no longer have to, since they’ve spent the last two films/stories doing so, but her almost comatose demeanour for the majority of the film is a little dry to say the least. Michael Nyquist’s journalist, Blomkvist – as already stated – plays a much more important part this time around, and, aside from having fairly dodgy dyed hair, he is solid in the role. He makes for a very interesting male protagonist, neither tough action hero nor decorated veteran, he’s just a persistent investigator, and that is quite unique in a world of male heroes who rely a great deal on their physical presence. It certainly will be a challenge in the remake for them to leave the character intact, and not morph him to suit Daniel Craig – giving him more fight scenes and more action, which is wholly unnecessary for this story, but which will be the only thing to satisfy those who have gotten used to Craig’s bulldog Bond interpretation. Certainly, as is, the Millennium duo represent a breath of fresh air when it comes to protagonists – both using brains over brawn. If anything, Lisbeth is the tougher of the two, but only because she out-thinks her opponents – she’s an action heroine who is convincing in her confrontations, relying on staying one step ahead rather than matching physicality. There are no head-butt fights here, this is a very real depiction of a modern day action heroine.
All in all, the Millennium trilogy is undoubtedly a great set of books and movies, and works best when enjoyed in fairly close proximity to one another. Sure, it’s not perfect, the Director of Dragon Tattoo – the only proper movie – Nies Arden Oplev, doing a far better job than his replacement for the TV mini-series, Daniel Alfredson, who himself uses two different Editors to piece together the abridged movie versions of his four, longer 90-minute episodes. There’s a lot of footage lost in translation, and, although there is already a trilogy set that has been made available (complete with a fourth disc of extras), what many fans are waiting for is the complete set with the longer versions. I do have to wonder whether the second and third movies would have been better served left as four separate episodes, whether that may fill in some gaps, and also reset the balance when it comes to the off-kilter pacing. But only time will tell, as a deluxe edition is no doubt somewhere on the horizon, albeit several months away.
In the meantime, fans will be reasonably sated by this concluding chapter. With a little patience, and with the events of the second movie fresh in your mind (preferably watched the night before, or even back-to-back), there is plenty to be enjoyed here. It’s just a shame that the Millennium sequels do not work as standalone entries, that only the first film can be watched by itself, but if you can do your best to put the other parts together, then you can enjoy this trilogy as close to the way it was originally meant to be watched as possible. Released as separate movies, months apart, the late Stieg Larsson’s magnum opus could never be done justice. Thankfully you have the chance to rectify that, somewhat, in the comfort of your own home. And don’t worry about the movie score, it doesn’t represent the trilogy as a whole, which probably deserves a 9 even in its abridged form, it largely just reflects this film’s inadequacy as a standalone entry.
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