Friday, November 5, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest: A Lame Ending For The Stieg Larsson Film T‏rilogy

The following review contains spoilers.

It doesn’t end well. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, the third adaptation of the famous Stieg Larsson trilogy, is probably the least of the three movies, which is a big disappointment considering that its predecessor, The Girl Who Played With Fire, finished on a high note.

The last film in the series, begins like the book, immediately after the events of The Girl Who Played With Fire, with a grievously wounded Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) in the hospital and her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), getting ready to expose the Swedish higher-ups who subjected the mohawk-wearing punk hacker, both directly and indirectly, to all manner of abuse over the years. As Blomkvist and his allies tighten the net around the rogue government agency behind Salander's tribulations, the subject herself, set to go on trial for attempted murder of her abusive father, tries to cope with her injuries. She’s also seeking revenge on her tormenters. Larsson’s final novel upped the ante in all the themes that had gone before in a nail biting fashion but the film version, directed by Daniel Alfredson, who also helmed the previous movie, plods where it should move and concludes on a decidedly underwhelming note.

Lena Endre
As usual, many of the layers of the Larsson novel have been removed during the translation to celluloid, but those omissions and changes seem to matter even more this time around. I won’t reveal too much of the book but, suffice it to say, that Erika Berger (Lena Endre), Blomkvist’s editor and lover, has been denied a key subplot which expanded on her character; she’s now mere window dressing, with little to actually do on screen. At best, she comes across as a damsel in distress mostly concerned about Blomkvist’s determination to publish his expose in the face of threats to their lives. (Endre seems to be a good actress but she’s not around long enough to make a lasting impression. I still have problems with the miscasting of Rapace as the strikingly unique Salander; she’s too ordinary for the role.)

Worse, the film has seemingly jettisoned or forgotten about the complexity of Mikael and Erika’s relationship. In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the first release in the series, Erika was married. The Girl Who Played With Fire unveiled her illicit love affair with Blomkvist, but the husband has gone missing in Hornet’s Nest. The implication is that Berger lives alone, an odd departure from what has transpired before. Similarly, the movie is sloppy when it comes to the depiction of Ronald Niedermann (Mikael Spreitz), the blonde German giant wanted for the murder of two Swedish policemen at the outset of this movie. He blazes a path across the country but half the time his existence seems to have slipped the mind of the authorities. It really does appear that less attention has been paid to interior logic and cohesiveness than in the earlier two films. Reportedly, Millennium, the 2010 six-part Swedish TV remake of the movies goes deeper into the characterizations and story from the books, running about two hours longer than all the films combined.

Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace
Even more irritating in The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest is what’s been done to Blomkvist (each film has had a different screenwriter – Ulf Rydberg handles the duties here). Unlike in The Girl Who Played With Fire, Mikael is portrayed as something of a reactive protagonist, not the man of action who emerged in the three books and the first two films. It makes no sense that he’s savvy enough to recruit Salander’s clever hacker pal Plague to helping in getting the dirt on her – and his – enemies yet not smart enough to figure out that his office and phones have likely been bugged. This is especially absurd after a key document in Salander’s court defense has been stolen from him and from Salander’s lawyer, who also is happens to be his sister. Along with his fellow journalists, he’s facing off against a secret agency, so logically you'd think they ought to be careful about their workplace conversations, which was evident in the novel. But they’re utterly clueless and oblivious in the movie, a plot point that’s more than a little far fetched, even silly.

The Girl Who Played With Fire
In general, the larger premise of the novel -- revolving around a clandestine government force doing whatever it pleased for decades and still set on acting on its own in the present, thereby threatening the very fabric of Swedish democracy -- has been lost in the latest motion picture. It was the salient point of the entire trilogy, in fact, but The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest prefers to engage in the spymaster equivalent of He Said, She Said, demonstrating what Blomkvist et al are up to, then visiting the other side and showcasing their moves. It’s the dullest, most unimaginative sort of filmmaking, in a movie that, strangely, juxtaposes scenes of breakneck pacing, lest the plot take too long to get to its climax, with pedestrian, slow-moving sequences that suggest that there’s all the time in the world to get to where it’s going.

I’m not sure why this film is such a botch, since its director brought effective atmospherics and smart pacing to the previous movie, thereby triggering hopes for a powerhouse conclusion to the cinematic trilogy. Hornet’s Nest reminds me of nothing more than the decidedly uneven George Lucas's first Star Wars trilogy. Star Wars, the first movie, was flat, loaded down with the necessary exposition to introduce the characters, followed by The Empire Strikes Back, which brought the series to the level of art, only to end with Return of the Jedi, the most inconsequential and forgettable of them all. According to Richard Corliss in the November 8 issue of Time magazine, the Swedish trilogy comprise the most popular foreign-language films to strike pay dirt at the U.S. box office since 2007’s Oscar-winning La vie en rose. This signified Sweden’s’ most significant export to North America since the halcyon days of the pop group ABBA. But does that mean moviegoers, many of whom are unlikely to have read the novels, will flock to the source material? If it gets them to do so, I can live with the flawed series. But I’m afraid that the reverse may be true. Anyone catching the movies, and in particular the slipshod, sleepy Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, may just as likely wonder what all the Stieg Larsson fuss is all about.

-- Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He is teaching a course on significant contemporary film directors this fall at Ryerson University's LIFE Institute.

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