"...a deeper investigation into the puzzling, emblematic lead character...."

Dragon Tattoo Sequel Explores the Lead

(082710) Anybody can wear a dragon tattoo, play with fire, or kick a hornet's nest, but there's only one Noomi Rapace. The 31-year-old Swedish actor (née Noomi Norén) created such a sensation in Niels Arden Oplev's surprise art hit The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that she seemed born to play the role of tattooed, pierced, black-leathered, female avenger Lisbeth Salander. Ms. Rapace is now the public face of the trans-Atlantic pop-cultural phenomenon, which began with author Stieg Larsson's posthumously published "Millennium Trilogy" of novels — 21 million copies sold since 2005, according to the publicity — and which is still thundering onto US movie screens.

The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second film in the series, is a thoughtful but bloody advance along the lines of Dragon Tattoo as well as a deeper investigation into the puzzling, emblematic lead character. Lisbeth evidently has no end of scores to settle. Director Daniel Alfredson has done a fine job of keeping the continuity between the two chapters seamless. While this film does stand on its own, you’ll get more enjoyment and understanding of what’s going on if you’ve seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The film is out on DVD and is still playing locally at the art houses. Technically, The Girl Who Played with Fire feels a bit more hastily prepared than its predecessor -- it hit theaters mere months after Dragon Tattoo was released. The pacing is inconsistent at times and some of the story’s more complex relationships could have used a bit more fleshing out, but considering the films were made by different directors, the seamlessness between the look and feel of the two is actually quite amazing.

Either way, you’ll realize that Lisbeth Salander is one of the most fascinating movie characters in decades. Tiny in stature, she is seething with emotions and the painful scars created by a violent, unhappy childhood. However, those emotions are mostly in check. She is like a coiled viper that strikes when the moment is right. Those who want to catch her and kill her are in for the fight of their lives.

The dramatic hook, a topical but readily dispensable investigation into international human trafficking, works as a double narrative charm for director Daniel Alfredson and adapting screenwriter Jonas Frykberg. It not only gives free reign to author Larsson's preoccupations with sexual kink, but also draws in Millennium magazine reporter Mikael Blomkvist (played by series regular Michael Nyqvist).

It was the sympathetic Mikael, you'll recall, who teamed up in Dragon Tattoo with the initially wary Lisbeth to thwart a family of Nazi-esque Swedish industrialists guilty of abducting and mutilating young women — Lisbeth's number-one issue. For all her tough attitude, Lisbeth is the ideal professional victim. She developed her fighting skills after being raped, tortured, and wrongfully institutionalized in her youth, but seems forever doomed to become yet again the unwilling plaything of ugly, flabby, perverted old men, the kind who are in urgent need of having the words "I am a sadist pig and a rapist" tattooed on their chests. Larsson and his adaptors thus manage to have it both ways: They put on a lurid sadomasochistic peep show, then deal out the righteous punishment for it.

Mikael's main function in the trilogy is to act as Lisbeth's guide dog, sniffing out messes for her to clean up. He has his career and a girlfriend named Erika (Lena Andre) but he remains devoted to the girl with the tattoo, even from a distance. Journalist Mikael and computer hacker Lisbeth spend the least time together of any crime-fighting team in history. They never meet face-to-face until the finale of Played with Fire — their preferred means of communication is the Internet.

At its crackling best, the Girl series spins a Bourne Trilogy-style tapestry of psychological dis-ease, corruption, and revenge. At its flimsiest, Lisbeth and Mikael's energetic punch-outs with the sinister Zala (Georgi Staykov) and his robotic blond behemoth Niedermann (Micke Spreitz) more closely resemble the antics of Agents Mulder and Scully on The X-Files or its boob-tube antecedent, The Night Stalker, with reporter Carl Kolchak battling headless bikers and vampires. The crackling best generally outweighs the flimsiest, thanks in part to the confused chemistry between actors Rapace and Nyqvist.

But the trilogy's lasting appeal is in the lean and hungry face of solitary seeker Lisbeth, perched on a windowsill gazing out on the nighttime sights of Stockholm, like a gargoyle. Anonymity is her secret weapon. Androgynous Lisbeth's investigations are aided by the fact that in a hoodie she looks like any teenage boy. Actor Rapace (she's married to actor Ola Rapace) has worked in Swedish TV and on stage, but her Lisbeth Salander is the role of a lifetime, a deadly yet vulnerable character who ends up relying entirely on herself — despite the occasional tryst with her friend Miriam (Yasmine Garbi). The Girl Who Played with Fire is more about establishing basic trust between human beings than catching the bad guys. We'll have to wait until the third and final adventure to see if the center holds. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, produced in 2009 and having already played Europe, opens in the US in October.

Directed by:    Daniel Alfredson
Written by:    Screenplay by Jonas Frykberg, adapted from Stieg
 Larsson's novel: "Flickan som lekte med elden"
Starring:    Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Annika Hallin
Released:    7/02/10
Length:    129 minutes
Rating:    Not Rated
Available On:    Rated R for disturbing violent content including
 rape, grisly images, sexual material, nudity and

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Review © 2010 Alternate Reality, Inc.

(aka "Old Reviews")