Film Review by Lauren Randall
It was almost inevitable. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo proving a resounding financial and critical success, its follow up – the equally enigmatically titled The Girl Who Played With Fire (2010) – was destined to either surpass its predecessor or fall disappointingly short. Suffering under the weight of expectation, perhaps, The Girl Who Played with Fire is by no means an incompetent thriller but is a certain step-down from the brutal innovation of its predecessor.
The crux of the plot is simple enough, traversing similar dark territory to Dragon Tattoo. Still haunted by her childhood and the violent assault that occurred in Dragon Tattoo, cyberpunk hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) returns to Sweden and finds herself embroiled in more corruption and cover-ups. Falsely accused of three murders, Lisbeth goes on the run, pursued by a group of thugs who seem to be somehow linked to her past and the sex-trafficking investigation her old pal Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is knee-deep in.
What the film struggles with, however, is how to structure its story. Originally broadcast as part of a television mini-series, the script becomes convoluted as a result of compression. Characters appear and exit with little introduction and sub-plots that initially seem incidental later reveal themselves as essential components of the overarching story. Not afforded the carefully tended construction that Dragon Tattoo was allowed whilst simultaneously rushing to reach the final part of the Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire feels both rushed and flabby in the telling of its story.
It’s a shame, especially as it still excels in creating daring, raw set-pieces. Though it slides perilously close to the ludicrous – the indestructible, peroxide blond Bond reject threatens to derail the genuine menace of the series the longer he is on screen – the film has enough gut-wrenching and gut-churning sequences to make an audience feel guilt for feeling thrilled. Whilst incoming director Daniel Alfredson (brother of Let The Right One In’s Tomas) has nothing quite as extreme as that sequence from Niels Arden Oplev’s Dragon Tattoo, he masterfully handles chainsaw attacks and a truly suspenseful final act that undoes all expectations.
Of course, it still also has hold of its predecessor’s trump card in the frighteningly brilliant Rapace. Seductive, harrowing, wraithlike: Rapace expands upon her triumphant first performance to cement Lisbeth’s iconic status as heroine extraordinaire. She may be less of an enigma in this instalment but Lisbeth, and by extension Rapace herself, still produces the unexpected, holding her own against a shed load of heavies in one instance, revealing the internal scars of her traumatic past in the next.
What is disappointing about Lisbeth in this follow-up is that she doesn’t get to spend as much screen time with Blomkvist, as Nyquist’s natural chemistry with Rapace produced some wonderfully off-guard moments in Dragon Tattoo. Equally good on their own, you can’t help but wonder how brilliant they’d be put together again. And that goes for the film as a whole. As promising as each component might be, some evidently stronger than others, The Girl Who Played With Fire has a disjointed feel to it. A film that sparks, certainly, but one that also, sadly, fails to ignite.