*This review may contain The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo spoilers*
With a Hollywood remake of the original already up and running, the second part of Steig Larsson’s Millenium trilogy finally gets released in the UK at the end of August – almost a full year since it was released in the Nordic territories. The Girl Who Played With Fire sees the enigmatic heroine Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) on the run after she’s accused of the murder of a young journalist and his girlfriend as well as the murder of her guardian. After she saved his life at the end of the last instalment, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is determined to repay the favour and prove her innocence but with Salander hell-bent on revenge, will Blomkvist solve the mystery in time…
Fortunately for Hollywood, but not so much for fans of the book, the task of remaking this film will be less daunting than the one facing them remaking the stunning first film. It’s not so much that it’s a particularly bad film but there is a lot of room for improvement where The Girl Who Played With Fire is concerned. Perhaps it was because it was originally shot for TV, with only the massive success of the first film resulting in a cinema release, but the whole film feels a lot less cinematic than the original especially where the parallel storylines are concerned. The first film did a magnificent job in merging the two threads – Blomkvist and Salander – as naturally as Larsson did in his book but here, it feels very episodic and very much a case of Blomkvist did this, then Salander did this.
On its own, this wouldn’t be too much of a concern but it’s exacerbated by the changes between the source material and the film. Much like the original, the film is a streamlined version of the book but whereas the first did it without detriment to anyone watching who hadn’t read the book, here events become almost impossible to follow if you didn’t already have some background knowledge because of the fast pace of the film. There are some changes that are good ones – the omission of Salander’s jet setting adventures means the film gets off to a stronger, more purposeful start – but the sidelining of certain plot threads and characters – Bublanski and his investigation barely gets a look in here and neither does Dr. Teleborian other than a name mention – results in a film that is in danger of leaving its less knowledgeable audience behind.
It’s not all doom and gloom though as the strongest element of the book is left in tact here, barring a slight change of location for anyone who wants to be pedantic. The ending has lost none of its power and boldness and, if anything, would be appreciated more from people who haven’t read the book and have avoided the spoilers. It’s the climax of a thrilling final twenty or so minutes as Salander closes in on the people responsible and the twists contained are well played despite the leap of faith that may be required for one of them.
The glue that holds the film together is the electric Noomi Rapace as Salander who puts in a performance that possibly even surpasses the one in the original. Subtle, nuanced and yet brimming with pent-up aggression, Rapace is an arresting screen presence whether she’s torturing a suspect in one of the film’s standout scenes or when she gets to show off Salander’s emotional side when she visits her former guardian in a care home; it’s a particular shame that more of this isn’t shown in the film as it’s one of the key emotional cores to the book. The most impressive thing about the whole performance is that Rapace manages to make us care for a character that, on the surface at least, is so cold and detached – it’s a thankless task for whoever Hollywood chooses to take up the role as they just won't be Salander like Rapace is.
Overall though, the main sense fans of the book will take away from the film is one of disappointment but it’s hard to tell how much of this should fall at the director’s feet. There’s some nice touches of visual flair – especially effective are the flashbacks of Salander’s childhood – and the main set pieces that have remained in tack from the book all impress – even the fight scene between real-life boxer Paolo Roberto and man-mountain Niedermann (Micke Spreitz) manages to just about stay on the right side of ridiculous – but this is definitely a film that would be benefited from a running time similar to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and maybe the two-part TV version solves many of its problems. As it is though, this is yet another notch on the side of literature when it comes to the eternal book vs. film debate.