The Girl Who Played With Fire [Flickan som lekte med elden] (2009)
Starring Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Tehilla Blad, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Per Oscarsson, Sofia Ledarp, Yasmine Garbi, Georgi Staykov, Annika Hallin
Directed by Daniel Alfredson
Expectations: Low. I didn’t really like the first one that much, but just enough to give this a shot.
I wasn’t shy about my indifference to the first film in this series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but despite that I had an urge to see the follow-up. The character of Lisbeth Salander is an intriguing one and I hoped that with a different story surrounding her, I might connect more with the film. This is essentially exactly what happened with The Girl Who Played With Fire and I’m glad I took the plunge.
One of my main beefs with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was that even though Salander was the girl in the title, she felt like nothing more than a supporting character. The family mystery of that film and her personal story didn’t mix at all and felt disjointed. Well, all those random scenes that felt superfluous and unnecessary in the first film, are all directly followed up in this film, and as they were the most interesting part of the previous film, this is a welcome change. Through the evolution of these storylines, the audience learns key elements of Salander’s past and what makes her who she is. As hinted at in the previous film, she is one tormented soul. This film completely revolves around her and now Blomkvist is the supporting character, so I got exactly what I wanted.
That’s not to say it’s all roses here though, as the film has a similar slow pace and it definitely drags in spots. There’s so many facts and names being thrown at you, it’s incredibly hard to keep track of them all. If you can keep up, the film pays off pretty well… and to be honest even if you only know who the main people of the story are, you’ll still be somewhat satisfied.
The Girl Who Played With Fire deals with the murder of two young reporters working for Mikael Blomkvist, while uncovering an illegal prostitution ring. The gun used had the prints of one Lisbeth Salander on it and she is now the prime suspect. Blomkvist knows that she wouldn’t have done such a thing, so he tries his best to deter the police and help out in any way he can. Most of the time, he sticks to himself and he only actually intersects with Salander in the finale of the film. This works extremely well, because as I mentioned before, the focus is almost entirely on Salander now. As she tries to stay one step ahead of her pursuers, we do our best to unravel her back story and it makes for an interesting movie.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is a much more action-packed film than its predecessor and is far less depressing looking and forlorn. It is definitely a better film than the first, and this can be attributed to a number of reasons. First and foremost, the shift of Salander and Blomkvist into the roles I originally thought they should be in. Secondly, familiarity. Having a bit of a basis on who everyone is and what’s going on in their world helps tremendously. They also did a masterful job of making everything cohesive and feel likes it’s part of the same world as the first film. There’s quite a few callbacks to scenes from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and they seamlessly integrate into the visual style of this film. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these films were all made side-by-side like Lord of the Rings, that’s how well they pull it off . Third, a new director. I don’t necessarily think this film is better directed, but it is infinitely more accessible. While the previous film has a tendency towards abstract and more artsy sensibilities, this film is a lot more straight-forward. I suppose this could be seen as a step backwards to some, but for me it was a definite positive. Fourth, the shift to a 1.85:1 ratio. This is more personal preference than anything else, but the taller ratio seems to fit this story and its visuals much better.
While The Girl Who Played With Fire is superior to its predecessor, it still has its share of problems that ultimately hold it back from being the film it could be. It has a killer story that has all the makings of a thrilling, intense, fun revenge movie. They get it almost right here, but the pace is just too slow to adequately keep the tension up throughout. The entire cast is excellent and all do wonderful jobs at bringing their characters to life. Special shoutout to Noomi Rapace though, as she completely owns this movie with her ass-kicking performance. A lot of times when female characters are supposed to be badasses, it feels like movie magic. In this film, Rapace crunches bones and tazes balls with an authority that never feels like an act. This is her film and her series, just as it should have been from the start.