Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Well, that was quick.  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the third and final film in the Millennium Trilogy, based on the books by Steig Larsson; The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire also had American theatrical releases in 2010.  I think it is worth pointing out that this film's title was changed for American audiences.  The Swedish title was Luftslottet Som Spr√§ngdes, which means "The Air Castle That was Blown Up."  Okie dokie, then.

Hornet's Nest picks right when Played With Fire ended.  Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is suffering from several gunshot wounds, her evil father, Zalachenko, is suffering from gunshot wounds and an axe to the head, and her evil half-brother, Niedermann (Micke Spreitz), is trying to escape police custody.  Lisbeth and Zalachenko both reach the hospital in time to save their lives, thanks to Lisbeth's reporter friend Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) calling an ambulance in time.  While recovering from brain surgery to remove the bullet in her head, Lisbeth is charged with the attempted murder of her father.  Knowing that Lisbeth doesn't stand a chance against those charges --- with her aggressive goth-punk look, history of alleged mental illness, and cyber-criminal activities, he has a point --- Mikael decides to dedicate an entire issue of his muckraking magazine, Millennium, to proving Lisbeth's innocence.  Things get a bit more complicated when a clandestine government group decides that Zalachenko and Lisbeth must die before they have the chance to talk to the authorities.  The group makes their move and kills Zalachenko, but Lisbeth survived.  Now, this group is pulling all the strings they can to guarantee Lisbeth gets declared "criminally insane" and locked up in the asylum of their choice, attended by doctors that they can trust.  How can Mikael possibly compete with the people behind the people behind the people who stand behind the president?  By being a reporter, of course.
"Does this look like the face of a murderer?"

If you have read the books or seen the other two films, you might notice just how different each story is.  The first movie was a kind of closed-door mystery, the second was a thriller, and this one is a courtroom drama.  The direction and pacing of the movies doesn't change from film to film, but that abrupt change in genre is all the more apparent with the short span of time between the release dates of the films.  The acting in this movie is about the same as the other two; Lisbeth spends a lot of time sulking and being stubborn, so more of the narrative duties fall on Mikael.  Once again, Noomi Rapace is the best thing about the movie, even if her character spent less time active in this film, and Michael Nyqvist turned in another mediocre performance (better than last time, though).  The direction of Daniel Alfredson is simple and efficient, with little time spent on anything that doesn't propel the plot forward.

I had hoped that this film would succeed where so many other "Part 3" movies have failed.  After all, it was filmed and released in the same year as its predecessor, so there was no change in major cast or crew.  And I will give it credit for not trying to out-do the second film.  Instead of trying to top that fast-paced thriller, it opts for a Grisham-esque legal battle.  I thought that was an interesting and unexpected choice, but it ultimately didn't work for me.  The key to a good legal thriller is some sort of reveal, where a key piece of evidence suddenly shows everyone the truth.  This movie doesn't tell us anything new about Lisbeth.  If you saw the first two movies, you have every personal detail that they revealed in the courtroom.  Where were the twists?  Where was the surprise?  This was a whole movie about Lisbeth's life, and it took most of its information from the last movie.  The American title implies that Lisbeth had tempted the fates and gotten herself in trouble, but the fact of the matter is that her character was a victim the entire time.  But if you've watched any of these films, that is obvious already.

The thing that really bugged me was the complete lack of explanation why a secret government group would bother with Lisbeth.  "It's because they brought her father into the country as a Soviet defector."  Yeah, so?  I don't understand what was so dangerous about her that these men went out of their way to harm her.  I'm not saying that there was no feasible reason for this secret group to act the way they did.  I'm saying that it is not explained in the movie.  The villains don't have a motive.  That's either the worst subtitle-job ever, or the filmmakers were inept.  I'm leaning toward the latter.  Why?  Well, there are all sorts of odd details that bothered me in this movie, details that should have been caught in the script stage, but managed to make it in the final product.  For starters, an experienced secret government agent goes to the hospital to kill Lisbeth and Zalachenko; he doesn't use a silencer, a pillow, or even a 20oz soda bottle to dull the sound of the gunshot.  Everyone hears the shot, and there is enough time for someone to help protect Lisbeth.  You don't get to be an elderly covert agent without quietly killing a few people, but this moron brought an extra loud popgun for an assassination job?  That makes no sense.  Also weird: Lisbeth eats pizza by folding the tip back to the crust.  And I thought New Yorkers had it wrong.  That's not really a jab at the movie as a whole, but it bugged me.  For the courtroom scenes, Lisbeth dresses her goth-iest, complete with chains, studs, and spiked accessories.  How is someone in police custody, someone presumed to be crazy, allowed access to potentially dangerous gear?  Again, that makes no sense.

This movie isn't terrible.  The story is told clearly and it helps the characters complete something vaguely resembling an emotional arc (well, Lisbeth does, anyway).  This movie just isn't necessary.  The whole film just feels like falling action from the previous movie, wrapping up loose ends and helping Lisbeth clear her name.  I don't see a need for that to have taken more than half an hour, tops.  Maybe I would feel differently if the bad guys had known motives.  Maybe not.  This third chapter to the Millennium Trilogy is definitely the worst of the bunch.

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