by Tony Dayoub
Last time we saw her, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) had uncovered a conspiracy involving men at the highest level of her government, all protecting her cruel Soviet father, Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), who Lisbeth had once torched in retaliation for beating her mother. Salander had penetrated this veil of secrecy with her super-computer-hacking powers, ass-kicking prowess, and a little help from Millennium Magazine reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). But the final confrontation between Salander and Zalachenko—a clean-up man for the shadowy organization behind the movie's conspiracies—left both of them bloodied, broken, and near death, while Zalachenko's near-invulnerable enforcer—and Salander's half-brother—the giant Niedermann, had disappeared. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest continues from this point.
Though it took me only a paragraph to catch you up on the sometimes confusing story thus far, it takes Hornet's Nest more than a third of its running time to do the same. The first hour of the film reintroduces the group of dying men behind Salander's troubles with a gutsy scene of desperation, in which the creakiest old man still mobile walks into a hospital, kills Zalachenko, and then turns the gun on himself after failing to get to Salander before the cops arrive.
Meanwhile, Salander, whose chemistry with Blomkvist was one of the selling points of the first film in the trilogy, is again kept far from her cohort. Blomkvist's sister, defense lawyer Annika (Annika Hallin), logs in more screen time with Salander as Hornet's Nest devolves into a conventional courtroom thriller designed to pay back Stieg Larsson's cult with more than a bit of fan service; just about every demented villain who had a hand in ruining Salander's life is systematically punished for their malicious acts.
Worse yet, this time, we are deprived the opportunity of seeing Salander in action. Spending much of her time, confined to a hospital bed, jail, or mired in courtroom proceedings, this emotionally stunted woman—whose soul is revealed only by her actions—is now closed off to us in yet another way. Fortunately, actor Nyqvist is up to the task of playing action hero in this one, especially in a scene where another bumbling hit man is sent to a restaurant by the corrupt, old cabal to eliminate Blomkvist.
While average viewers (like my wife... not a cinephile by any stretch) may find some satisfaction in having all ambiguities addressed, a more demanding audience should expect to be disappointed with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. The attraction between the misfit Salander and the strait-laced Blomkvist that was front and center in Dragon Tattoo—one in which the chemistry was fueled by an antithetical tension—is sacrificed in favor of routine plot machinations which do little to inform the characters. Sure, ostensibly, this is about getting to the bottom of the enigma that is Salander. But really when all is said and done, I don't feel like I know her any better than I did at the start, and certainly, there are no new biographical details included which didn't appear in the first two films.
No, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is simply a summation of all that came before, collated to make sense for those viewers who haven't yet put it together on their own.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest opens today in limited theatrical release.