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The Girl Who Played with Fire Review

Adrian Hatwell
Adrian Hatwell

Following last year’s vicious thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, act two of the Swedish Millennium trilogy fails to ignite with the same intensity. The Girl Who Played with Fire comes on energetically but it’s thick source novel resists reduction into a satisfying two-hour script.

Fire returns us to the sordid world of goth hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and hardnosed reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), scourges both of the corrupt and nasty criminal underworld of Sweden. Lisbeth has been off living the life of a righteous outlaw while Mikael has returned to his work at Millenium magazine, exposing the crooked ways of those in power.

Soon enough the pair is brought back into indirect contact when Lisbeth is framed for a handful of murders relating to a sex trafficking ring under investigation by Millennium. As the disturbed young anti-heroine goes on the run her beleaguered white knight sets about discovering the real killer’s identity.

Where the first Millennium film was happy enough to contort to the conventional thriller blueprint, content with exploring some nastiness that Hollywood would generally shy away from, Fire seems to forget the fundamentals.

As is often the case with adaptations, the Stieg Larsson novel from which the film is birthed is a far denser beast. While cuts are inevitable, the screenplay irritatingly leaves just enough of each extraneous plot thread in the film so that we know there should be more but never get to see it.

For example, the sex trafficking thread that initially brings the mystery together is set up in classic sting operation fashion. We see pictures of the players pinned to the corkboard, strategies are hatched, conspiracies are pondered; it’s all very exciting. But then the murders occur and suddenly the operation is all but forgotten.

Perhaps the most unfortunate misstep, however, is that the mystery is simply not mysterious at all. While the characters are running around exasperated and baffled the audience has been given far too much information from the get go. We know who the killer is, we know why they did it, but we’re forced to sit patiently while the rest of the film catches up.

Tension also leaks out of the central relationship. Tattoo gave us the weird and vaguely uncomfortable coupling of the young and sexually open Lisbeth with the much older, paternally conservative Blomkvist. It was a bluntly physical arrangement that continually threatened to become an openly emotional connection if only the two leads weren’t so grievously fucked up.

Fire, on the other hand, begins with the pair separated and doesn’t bring them together until the final scene of the film. By that time things have got well and truly out of hand and there’s no time for heavy petting of any kind.

With neither the whodunit intrigue nor titillating debauchery of the first film, the sequel relies solely on the thrill of the chase to keep the audience engaged, but there’s only so much running one can take until exhaustion takes hold.

More positively, Rapace and Nyqvist both resume their roles with charismatic peculiarity and a bracing talent for minimal, naturalistic dialogue. The production vales are solid and the film stays tonally consistent with the more impressive original. 

As it stands, Fire rolls perilously close to being outright bland after Tattoo did such a good job of distinguishing itself. Because of the sort-of cliffhanger ending it is possible Millennium part three might be able to redeem the arc, but it will need to recapture the taught craft of the original if the series is to get back on track for a satisfying conclusion.

The Girl who Played with Fire is in cinemas July 29.

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