There was no chance that the film adaptation of the third book in Stieg Larsson’s internationally bestselling Millennium trilogy would be as strong as the first. The Swedish series frontloads the significant action into its dense first installment, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, then explores the past in the follow-up, The Girl Who Played With Fire. The third book largely exists to wrap up loose ends; the film adaptation is essentially two and a half hours of denouement. The stakes are high for protagonist Noomi Rapace: Having been abused, marginalized, and controlled by others much of her life, she’s finally in a position to get justice. But she’s rarely an active part of the process, and watching a protagonist angrily wait for the rest of her world to catch up on information the audience already knows tends to be frustrating.
The first two series installments were journalistic procedurals disguised as murder mysteries; Hornet’s Nest is part political thriller, part legal procedural, with an unfortunate dearth of mystery. It opens where Fire wrapped, with Rapace critically injured and hospitalized; while she was an active player in the first two installments, here, she’s the object of the action, as her crusading-journalist friend (Michael Nyqvist) struggles to clear her name, and a variety of other forces shoulder each other aside while carefully planning to destroy her.
Much of the Millennium series’ popularity trades on its lurid violence and twisty plotting, which return here, but in smaller and less relevant measure. The rest centers on the books’ fierce star, whose competence, creativity, and uncompromising brutality make her a valiant champion against even the most entrenched forces of oppression. But Hornet’s Nest largely muzzles her—throughout her physical recovery and the run-up to her court date, her primary weapon is contemptuous silence—and without her, the story lacks a center. Once again, the material and tone are grim, and the performances regain a significant urgency after Fire’s relative slackness. It’s rarely tedious, but it’s also rarely insightful or propulsive, and since there’s nothing new to discover about the characters or their world, much of the film feels like a protracted, contrived pause, as everyone waits for Rapace to finally get back into the game.