Millennium 2: The girl who plays with fire

Math lovers all over the world will be able to confirm that after part one often a second part will follow. But rarely does this happen with the speed of Stieg Larsson‘s trilogy Millennium. Having just waved the first part (Men who hate women) goodbye last autumn, we barely got time to overcome our New Year’s hangover: the second part, The girl who plays with fire, was released in January 2010. Try and see it in a hurry, unless you want to see the sequels back to back… yes, the third instalment of the trilogy will arrive in European theatres in March.

The director of Flickan som lekte med elden, the original Swedish title of the film, found himself in a position you won’t envy him for. Not only did Daniel Alfredson have to justice to some of the most popular books (me thinks it’ll be easier to name the countries where you won’t find a Larsson book in the Top 10), he also had to follow in the footsteps of Niels Arden Oplev, whose Men who hate women was so good it raised the bar for European thrillers. Rather him than us, don’t you agree?

Contrary to what a friend of mine assumed: Men who hate women was also made for Swedish television in a lavish three hour long two-parter. Thirty minutes of non-essential story were cut out for the film version, but originally it was also a tv movie. That The girl who plays with fire looks more like a made for tv movie only shows how good the first part really was. In fact, for a tv adaptation of a novel The girl who plays with fire isn’t all that bad, it’s just that it fails to reach the parameters its predecessor had set.

In this second instalment we meet up with investigative journalist Blomkvist again, this time on the lookout of more men who hate women: Blomkvist’s magazine, Millennium, is on the verge of publishing an issue concerning women of Eastern Europe, forced into prostitution. Lisbeth Salander is having more fun, but she returns to Sweden after finding out that Bjurman, the sadist who got a free tattoo from Lisbeth, has made an appointment to have his warning on his stomach removed (yeah, you learn a lot from hacking). Little did she know that by returning to Sweden, she allows herself to become the centre of a conspiracy. Not before long, Lisbeth Salander is wanted for murder and it’s up to Blomkvist to save her skin.

The girl who plays with fire is a clear reference to Lisbeth Salander, as anyone who’s seen the first film will know. This second instalment reveals more about Lisbeth’s murky past, but by doing so, it turns itself more into a regular thriller. If in my previous review I mentioned that noone was looking forward to the American remake of the Millennium trilogy, it now looks as if the second part already looks like a Hollywood thriller (with the exception of course that Hollywood won’t make them this gritty and bloody). The climax of the film is simply so outrageous I felt disappointed. Surely this couldn’t be how Larsson had written the finale…?

One day and one visit to the library later it turned out the film copied the book’s denouement, with the exception that Larsson – clearly he must’ve assumed he was asking a lot of our suspension of disbelief – wrote the scene with lots of care and detail. What looks quite improbable can be explained and if you’re a bit gullible, it may even make sense. Also, Larsson made sure it wasn’t mentioned how much time goes by between the build-up and the outcome. The film is blunter: in the lead-up it’s night (pitch dark), in the conclusion it’s obviously beyond dawn. Had the director been more subtle, the conclusion might have made sense, now it looks like a bloodier version of a typical Hollywood finale.

And that is the main flaw of this film: Flickan som lekte med elden lacks subtlety. It still deserves a score that’s better than average, but 2010 will be a pisspoor year if this ends up in my top 10.

6.5/10

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