Synopsis: Based on the international best-selling novel, The Girl Who Played With Fire is the explosive follow-up to the literary and cinematic hit The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. In this second installment of Stieg Larsson’s phenomenal “Millennium” trilogy, Lisbeth Salander is a wanted woman. A researcher and a Millennium journalist about to expose the truth about the sex trade in Sweden are brutally murdered and Salander’s prints are on the weapon. Her history of unpredictable and violent behavior makes her an official danger to society. Mikael Blomkvist, Salander’s friend and Millennium’s publisher, is alone in his belief of Salander’s innocence. Digging deeper, Blomkvist unearths evidence implicating highly placed members of Swedish society – as well as shocking details about Salander’s past. He is desperate to get to her before she is cornered – but no one can find her anywhere.
The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition contains more than two hours of additional footage not seen in the theatrical versions of the original Swedish films (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest). Amassing a total of 9 hours of story content and presented in 6 parts, this complete version of the international hit series restores notable characters and subplots from Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novels, most significantly in the portrayal of Erika Berger (Lena Endre), the editor of MILLENNIUM magazine as well as Mikael Blomkvist’s friend and occasional lover. Starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition is the quintessential set for lovers of the books and a must-have for fans of the film trilogy.
Flickan som lekte med elden 7.75
eyelights: Lisbeth. Niedermann.
eyesores: Lisbeth. the clichés.
I’d heard for a long time that the two cinematic follow-ups to ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo‘ weren’t nearly as good as the original was. I knew that going in. I also knew that the two sequels were made as two-part television movies and then cropped for theatrical audiences (unlike the first one, which was done the other way around: first as a feature film and then extended into a two-parter). That was no revelation either.
(For a complete rundown of all the changes, please visit the following site: www.movie-censorship.com/. It’s extensive and thorough. It’s a total eye-opener.)
So it was to my surprise that I was thoroughly engaged and enjoying ‘Flickan som lekte med elden’ as much as I did; I half-expected disappointment.
From the onset, the story grabbed hold of me: I was curious to know what was going on with Lisbeth and Mikael, and it indulged me by answering my most basic questions. But only just enough. It also threw us right into another gripping story by introducing a new journalist to Millenium – this time in the form of Dag, who, along with his girlfriend, are uncovering the cover-up of a crime syndicate and prostitution ring in various levels of society, including within political spheres.
The issue of human trafficking has become an international concern in recent years. Massive numbers of women are disappearing in Eastern Europe and finding themselves coerced into prostitution and pornography, oftentimes never resurfacing. The first moments of the film put this in perspective: we were treated to the POV of a young woman tied to a bedpost and being used by some sweaty middle-aged man for a quick “in-out, in-out”. It’s nasty, unsavoury business, that!
It gets worse when we realize that he works for the crime organisation that is behind this prostitution ring, and is simply collecting on part of fee and/or privileges. The goons who are in the next room are sleazy-looking bar-room slime, and they’re just hanging around, waiting to give the man further orders from their boss – and, presumably, guarding their precious imprisoned booty. The sad reality of this scene came home to me, and I couldn’t help but feel scuzzy watching these people.
From that point onward, as with its predecessor, ‘Flickan som lekte med elden’ slowly weaves together the stories of Lisbeth and Mikael, who are now out of touch and in different countries. She is living under the radar with the large fortune she amassed before leaving Sweden, enjoying the sun and taking it easy. He is continuing to wage his various battles as one of the heads of Millenium, picking away at the sores that his country is hiding. Even though she’s in hiding, Mikael has been trying to find Lisbeth.
Lisbeth has changed in the year since she left, since they last saw each other. She is growing out her hair, has abandoned her punk/gothic-themed fashions for khakis and white blouses, and all anger and despondency seems to have left her. She is still emotionally distant, however, but she seems to be doing well, perhaps even doing some healing by having taken distance from her past troubles. We are never really privy to what goes on in her head, however: she rarely speaks, and her face is expressionless.
After discovering that her guardian, Bjurman, the man who tried to manipulate her but on whom she turned the tables, was no longer sending in reports and that he was planning to visit a French clinic to have her marks removed from his body, she decides to return to Sweden and take care of her affairs, to ensure that all remains under control. But that’s when she also inadvertently gets sucked into a ploy to destroy all links to the afore-mentioned prostitution ring – links which, coincidentally enough, include Bjurman.
It’s a fairly convoluted affair, but ‘Flickan som lekte med elden’ grips you from the onset. Although Lisbeth’s story is a slow burn, we are thrown right into the action from the start with the murder of a prostitute and Millenium’s investigation of the allegations against many influential people. I’ve been told that the book was a dense affair, so it’s hardly surprising that the film is bursting with details and plot points: they are interwoven into a tight ride that gradually gathers speed until Lisbeth is also knee-deep into it too.
By the mid-point, I was totally involved. I was pretty much talking at the screen when sympathetic characters were thrown into dangerous situations – a rarity for me. Confronted by Niedermann, a monster of man who seemed impervious to pain, I merely hoped that his victims would suffer a less horrible fate than one would otherwise expect; there seemed to be no better scenario for them, especially given this man’s propensity for nastiness. When the first part ended, I was on the edge of my seat and was incapable of waiting to see the second part.
Unfortunately, the second part of ‘Flickan som lekte med elden’ doesn’t sustain the intensity of the first. Whereas I found the first part gripping enough to consider giving it an 8.25-8.5, the second half was very average, going somewhere in the area of 7.0-7.25 . I think that what bothered me the most was that it became all too conventional: many of the plot twists were far too predictable and I was disappointed that a series that started off as fresh and thematically topical would rehash elements that have been done to death.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
For starters, it’s clichéd to make the villains related to Lisbeth; we’ve seen this before and many times over – it’s no longer shocking, or even remotely a surprise. In movies today, half of the time the baddies are related to the heroes: they’re often a family member, a friend, a colleague, or even a boss. A part of me could see how everything in ‘Flickan som lekte med elden’ pointed in the direction of Niedermann being a sibling (I was likely thinking of the ‘Halloween‘ series), but I wanted to believe that it would be something else. And as for dear ol’ dad? I hoped that having her brother be the main henchman would be enough, but I was wrong. So very wrong.At the beginning of the picture, I really expected the crime ring to have connections with government officials and/or other important people hidden in various organisations. Everything seemed to point to that. This would have been quite the development and it would have felt true to me – Lord knows that there is plenty of corruption around, as evidenced by daily news headlines. Alas, it was just her daddy, and everything was run from a dilapidated farmhouse instead of a more respectable headquarters. Where was all the money that they made from their criminal activities?
I also despised the notion that Lisbeth could be shot three times and buried half-alive and yet managed to dig herself up and survived. I like that she got shot – that’s realistic given the circumstances. But once would have been enough: small as she is (she’s five feet tall), three bullets should have killed her – the trauma alone might have done the trick, but surely the blood loss throughout the night would have finished her off it the trauma didn’t. Add to this the lack of air underground, and it seems to me that she would have suffocated even without the other wounds – especially after so many hours like that.
I love the character, and don’t want her to die, but in this context she should have. Three times over.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Thankfully the acting is rock solid throughout. From the main cast to the most minor part, everyone is decent enough. I have one exception in mind but it’s not worth noting – I think that’s it’s all very good given that it’s a television production. In fact, I’m surprised that the whole cast returned for what is ostensibly a downgrade of the first film. The director didn’t, unfortunately, and that’s a darned shame: I found the first film more stylish than this one, which inarguably looks and feels like a TV movie. It’s really too bad, because I think it deserved better.
Having said this, ‘Flickan som lekte med elden’ is nonetheless a very good film. It may look cheaper than its predecessor and it wraps itself up in staleness for the second half, but it features a superb plot with plenty of thrills and heart-pounding moments. Is it a good follow-up to the previous picture? Yes, it most certainly is. And while some people may claim that it’s nowhere nearly as good, I think that this is just a case of mildly unmet expectations; this is an excellent film by any standard and it does manage to stoke the fires that the original lit.
Date of viewing: February 17, 2013