The three books Swedish author Stieg Larsson finished before he died—The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, collectively known as the Millennium trilogy—arguably suffer from a lack of the editing and polishing they might have received had he lived long enough to finish the entire planned 10-book cycle. It’s impossible to predict what Larsson might have ultimately done with these books, but it’s hard to miss how they get longer, drier, and more diffuse as the series progresses, and it’s impossible to miss how that dynamic affects the second film adaptation in the series, which feels simultaneously crowded and perfunctory.
Taking over for Dragon Tattoo director Niels Arden Oplev, Daniel Alfredson attempts to give The Girl Who Played With Fire the same propulsive strength as the first film, but he’s dealing with more characters over a broader playing field, which undermines any attempt at Dragon Tattoo’s impressive darkness and claustrophobia. This time out, the mystery being tackled by muckraking journalist Michael Nyqvist and gothy hacker Noomi Rapace is less personal, and it draws in too many underdeveloped outsiders, including Rapace’s sometime lesbian love interest (Yasmine Garbi), a star boxer, and a young couple working to expose human trafficking. Alfredson and screenwriter Jonas Frykberg minimize some of the more unwieldy and marginal subplots, particularly the police-department/security-firm sexist squabbles and Rapace’s vindictive onetime psych-ward caretaker. Unfortunately, they also cut corners and connective tissue, so some plot developments seem irrelevant, while others come out of nowhere.
More disappointingly, the entire cast seems less committed than they were the first time out. Nyqvist has little to do here, while Rapace, who was riveting in Dragon Tattoo, seems to be going through the motions. Alfredson repeatedly hones in on potentially fatal face-offs, yet in most cases, the participants seem somewhere between vaguely upset and marginally interested. There’s an unsatisfying casualness to Girl Who Played With Fire, as though all concerned feel like the groundwork has been laid, the ticket sales are assured, and just showing up is good enough. The story, already busy and disorganized on the page, languishes further onscreen. The only time the editing is tight, the actors are focused, and the tone is controlled is during the climactic confrontation—and, oddly, during the extended mid-film Rapace/Garbi sex scene. Suggesting that the film should be renamed The Girl Who Played With Tits And Guns would be an unconscionably cheap shot, but that title does get at the most worthy bits of this disappointingly lackluster sequel.