A film review by Craig J. Koban November 26, 2010


2010, R, 148 mins.


Lisbeth: Noomi Rapace / Mikael: Michael Nyqvist / Annika: Annika Hallin / Holger: Per Oscarsson / Erika: Lena Endre

Directed by Daniel Alfredson / Written by Jonas Frykberg, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson


In Swedish, with English subtitles.

Just how tough is Lisbeth Salander? 

Just consider the final few minutes of the second film in the “Millennium Trilogy”, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, based in turn on the posthumously published international best selling book by Stieg Larsson.  Lisbeth (the irreplaceable Noomi Rapace) has a fateful meeting with a criminal mastermind that reveals to her that he is her long thought dead father, after which he shoots her not once, not twice, but three times (once in the head) and buried her alive with the assistance of her gigantic freak of a half-brother (who happens to have a rare disorder that makes it difficult for him to feel pain).  She does managed to escape her tomb, like a fierce and hostile angel of death, and proceeded to put an axe into her dear ol’ papa while shooting several rounds at her eerily mute and nearly impervious sibling. 

The third film that rounds off this trilogy, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, takes place literally right after these disturbing events:  Following the aforementioned (and very bloody) family reunion, Lisbeth - with a bullet lodged in her brain - is airlifted to a nearby hospital in Gothenburg to await life saving surgery.  This is perhaps the lowest that this character has even been during all of the hellish ordeals that she has personally struggled through in the previous film and the one that begat it, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO: This bisexual, Goth-loving, computer-hacking, and tenaciously headstrong heroine has been through everything ranging from investigating a vile prostitution ring, fending off evil Nazis and child molesters, as well as being sexual abused by her parole handler in ways that can only be described as barbaric.  Now she lays in a hospital bed at her most vulnerable and exposed: what possible could this woman go through beyond this? 

Well, the plucky and intrepid doctors are able to remove the bullet from her skull and ensure her recovery, but she is a shadow of her former self, confined to her hospital bed with tubes and needles running through her.   Unfortunately, Lisbeth has far greater concerns than getting back into fighting shape: the police intend on charging her with attempted murder of her father and brother (the hulking presence of Mikael Spreitz), even though it was clearly self defense.  Even worse is that there is an enigmatic and shadowy governmental group known as "The Section" that wants to keep their decade’s old political secrets in check by using Lisbeth as a scapegoat: they recruit Dr. Peter Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl), the same psychiatrist that treated Lisbeth after she made her first attempt to murder her father when she was just a tender 12-years of age (attempting to murder one’s father is a habit that she has not grown out of).  It soon becomes clear that Dr. Teleborian has his own-sorted history of abusing poor Lisbeth (another old habit that does not die hard with the men in her life) and he may have ulterior motives with wanting her back in his care. 

Concurrent with Lisbeth’s nightmarish problems is her former investigative colleague – and one-night lover – Mikael Blomkvist (the rock steady and reliable Michael Nyqvist), who is trying to uncover the secrets of the conspiracy afoot to set up Lisbeth.  He and his colleagues at Millennium Magazine are going to great lengths to see that Lisbeth leaves the hospital – and her upcoming court room appearance – a free woman so that she will once and for all be considered “legally responsible” for herself, but the more Mikael and his assistants uncover about the real reasons why the Swedish authorities want to bring Lisbeth down, the more pressure is put on them to cease their investigation, or face dire consequences of their own.  Mikael does have some assistance in the form of a special governmental task force that is convinced of Lisbeth's innocence – and by Lisbeth herself, using a cell phone while in the hospital - but it will take all of Mikael’s shrewd analytical and deductive wits to get Lisbeth in the clear for good. 

One recurring theme that is back in THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST is the depiction of horrible, unethical, and twisted minded professional men that use repressively brutal tactics to ensure that Lisbeth suffers as much as possible.  The male antagonists presented in these films have always been juicily sensationalistic and perverse, and this third film is no exception.  After meeting Lisbeth’s sexually depraved parole officer in the first film and then her deformed father and mutant-like brother, we are again introduced to a slew of chauvinistic cretins that would like nothing better than to rid the world of Lisbeth altogether: Rosendahl’s psychiatrist is so smugly soft spoken and quietly sinister that you just know that he has his own sickening proclivities lurking beneath his false façade of a noble-minded professional.  Mikael Spreitz returns again as Lisbeth’s Terminator-like brother that seems to stop at nothing in order to avenge what she did to his father.  After all, even despicably evil and homicidally monstrous giants can love their daddies. 

Yet, it is through this sickening festival of female torture and suffering that makes Rapace’s Lisbeth one of the most intriguing and memorable of all of the recent female movie characters.  This is a woman that has been anguished and battered in ways that few woman have been in thrillers, yet she courageously perseveres and comes back fighting with an unapologetic viciousness.  Sometimes, it is her own dark sensibilities and anti-social attitude that gets her into trouble, but there is no mistaking her icy resolve.  Once we get settled into THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST, Lisbeth has become a battered-beyond-belief and emotionally wounded woman that is going into battle one last time to see that her persecutors suffer the consequences.   

When she finally appears in court during the film’s positively engrossing and gratifying climax, she has decked herself out like a female Travis Bickle from hell: her hair is spiked into a tall Mohawk, black studded leather protrudes all over her body, and buckles, spikes, jewelry, multiple body piercings, and heavily applied eye liner adorn her like a protective body armor against the elements.  She becomes a punk gladiator on a mission of legal revenge.  She will, for lack of a better phrase, not be fucked with again.  The courtroom sequence is well worth the price of admission, and anyone familiar with Lisbeth’s past tactics (especially in the form of a DVD that she created in the first film) know that they will bare successful fruition against her enemies for the legal world to see.  The entire trilogy has been building to this point, and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST does not disappoint on this level. 

I think, however, that this entry suffers from one of the problems that affected the previous film: The pairing of Mikael and Lisbeth in the first film – and the way it dealt with the delectable ambiguities of their relationship – was kind of vacant in the second entry and, once again, the two are largely apart throughout much of this final chapter.  The stellar and unforced chemistry that they had in the first film and the ways the screenplay death with their divergent methodologies of investigative journalism made it insatiable watchable.  Throughout much of this film Lisbeth is either secured to a hospital bed or is in police custody or is in a courtroom, so the compelling dynamic the first film established is kind of gone.  Also, this film’s final scene between the pair ends with such a deeply unsatisfying thud that it felt more like a deleted scene than it did a fitting moment of closure for these two world weary souls.  Seriously, these two people have been through too much for the lackluster final scene they are given here. 

THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST is also far too bloated and long for its own good: at 148 minutes, it takes forever for the plot to get to where it wants to go (the final courtroom battle) and various subplots about “The Section” are only vaguely developed.  Furthermore, the script does not divulge much more insight into the main characters themselves: the story seems more content with closure than it does with both embellishing characters and taking them into new areas (for the most part, nothing else is truly learned about Lisbeth and Mikael here beyond what we discovered in the past two films).   The main heroes of the film seem to be spinning their tires more leisurely this time around as opposed to occupying a truly involving and fresh mystery tale.    

THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS NEST is the least of the Millennium Trilogy of films, which I guess should not be all that surprising (Larsson himself died well before he could acceptably deal with the crucial Mikael/Lisbeth relationship arc and end it on a high note).  This wrap-up chapter seems a bit too perceptibly expository in nature for its own well-being and the central conspiracy to be blown wide open here lacks the urgency and interest of the opening act.  Yet, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST does succeed for showcasing the exhalant return - and summation - of Rapace’s Salander fighting opposite of the contemptible forces methodically scheming against her for the last seven-plus hours over three films.  For that, this closing episode of the Millennium Trilogy modestly satisfies for giving a dazzling and ferociously empowered feminine protagonist her chance to seek out and achieve ultimate vengeance.  Even though THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST is not the perfectly realized conclusion I was hoping for, I'm still thankful for taking the three-picture journey with Rapace's remarkable creation.      


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