Sullen, seething, sexy Lisbeth Salander is back for a poignant farewell in "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest." For those who haven't met the heroine of Swedish thriller novelist Stieg Larsson's smash Millennium trilogy, Lisbeth is the thinking man's (and woman's) Lara Croft. She's a computer hacker extraordinaire, an indestructible martial artist and a vengeful moralist, with enough emotional scar tissue and awful secrets to make her odd and fascinating. She lashes out brutally, but the bad guys deserve retribution. They are evil with a capital "E" and six exclamation points.
The concluding chapter in her adventures finds her recovering from near-fatal wounds inflicted by her monstrous father, a sadistic Soviet defector living under government protection in Sweden. If Lisbeth survives, she'll be put on trial for three murders that were truly acts of self-defense. Unless she's whacked by a secret government outfit murderously safeguarding their Russian accomplice. And then there's all that unfinished business with her crime-fighting partner and erstwhile lover, journalist Mikael Blomkvist.
The film huffs and wheezes under the strain of its narrative baggage. Niels Arden Oplev directed the crackerjack first installment, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," hustling the story along with athletic grace. All the Larsson adaptations suffer from overstuffed screenplays and XXL running times. You cut scenes from bestsellers at peril of the fans' ire. But director Daniel Alfredson, who helmed "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and this chapter, lacks Oplev's knack for giving static stories an illusion of breakneck momentum.
This film suffers from a strain of George Lucas' Disease, wherein sequels to a great yarn suffer a spectacular drop in quality. Symptoms include disoriented plotlines, wooden characters, loss of mood, pace and tone, declining dramatic tension and listless dialogue.
Blomkvist talks to his colleagues at Millennium magazine about printers' deadlines. Spies conspire over which strategy will most effectively silence Salander. Lawyers drone on in protracted courtroom scenes. Everyone filibusters except Lisbeth, who spends the first quarter of the movie silent and immobile in her hospital bed, recuperating from the bullet her father put in her head.
Noomi Rapace, with her severe beauty and stony glare, dominates her scenes even when she's lying on her back. You can't help but admire her presence; she acts her heart out. But you wish she'd get back into fighting form and bust some heads.
Instead, it's Blomkvist, the sedentary middle-aged writer, who has a life-or-death wrestling match with a machine-gunning killer. Michael Nyqvist plays the muckraking journalist with the solemn melancholy of an Ingmar Bergman depressive. His throwdown with the assassin is absurd, but it gives him something to do.
Throughout this film and the one before his relationship with Lisbeth has been sidelined as he has risked his life to defend her against trumped-up murder charges. That's a dramatic mistake, like separating Holmes from Watson or Starsky from Hutch. The weird dynamic of their bond -- Blomkvist imagining that he can touch Lisbeth's wounded heart and save her, she attracted to a good man who echoes the father figures who abused her since childhood -- was an irresistibly unstable psychological time bomb.
Blomkvist talks his sister Annika, a feminist attorney, into defending Salander. The hugely pregnant lawyer is another of Larsson's woman warriors, smart, resourceful, empathetic and fiercely moral. The too-convenient resolution of the court case wouldn't pass muster on "Law and Order," but it puts across an important character point. Annika's fierce advocacy shows Lisbeth that she can lower her guard occasionally and trust another human. Exactly how prepared she is to open herself to threatening feelings of vulnerability is played out in the finale. After spending most of the past two films apart, Rapace and Nykvist exchange meaningful glances before a climactic sound effect tells the tale. You may not like the resolution the film offers, but you have to respect its emotional truthfulness.
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