Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire. (2010)
Daniel Alfredson

I was overly excited going into the second film in The Millennium Trilogy, having now seen the first film twice and knowing how much I've come to admire it. This was easily my most anticipated movie event of the summer.

Most of the time in my trips to the theater I'm wanting to learn, to stretch, to see the world, to find new and fresh perspectives. I don't get particularly excited to see most movies, but I enjoy the chance to go and am typically rewarded with insight into other cultures, or the human condition, or thoughts about God, existence in general.

There are other times when I become an all-out nerd, practically shaking in anticipation, with almost a sweat on my brow during the opening trailers, telling all within earshot how lecherous I am, how I've been waiting and waiting to see this! I'm like a three year-old boy with a brand new Tonka Truck, who, you'd better watch out because I might wet my pants at any moment.

Such was the case with this film.

Yes, I really am that much a film nerd.

But I didn't leave the theater any place close to feeling the same. I didn't have that high that you get after sitting through something amazing. Instead I left bewildered, confused, exasperated and disappointed. I read interviews and all the love-ins for the new installment. I got more frustrated thinking I'd missed it. I may have, but I've got a few points to offer.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is a good thriller, and it is fun to see these cool Swedes in action yet again. But the plot, which seems simple in retrospect, carries with it loose ends that I can't quite tie together, and it is a far cry inferior to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

To at least partially understand why it doesn't stand up you've got to first understand all the different names involved here that weren't present in the original film. I'm not talking about the cast. Our cast is the same, with Noomi Rapace playing Lisbeth Salander, the gothic enigma darkchick whose back has a scary-giant dragon tattoo, and Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist, the investigative journalist most likely in love with darkchick but he's fresh out of jail wondering where she ended up.

But Daniel Alfredson takes the director's chair from Niels Arden Oplev. Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg turn over their screenwriting credits to Jonas Frykberg. And Peter Mokrosinski takes over the cinematography from Jens Fischer and Eric Kress. It's an entirely different team replacing the one that brought the success of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It's not something I thought about going in, but it makes a whole lot of sense in hindsight.

Salander, who solved two conspiracies in the first film, is at the heart of a new conspiracy here. The guardian she took vengeance against for rape is murdered, and matching fingerprints on the gun and a found video of the rape have police wanting her in for questioning. If you saw the first film, you know that Salander doesn't like the police very much. In fact, she wants nothing at all to do with them. Ever. And being innocent, she goes on the lam, using all her expertise in security and hacking to collect pieces to prove her innocence.

Blomkvist, now un-disgraced and working once again at Millennium magazine, helps Salander as best he can. They leave messages for each other in cyberspace. They hunt clues on their own and report when they find something interesting. They never meet in person, in fact the story picks up a year after the original and instead of meeting they take on other lovers. But they keep tabs on each other while apart.

I don't think I wanted a story where the two wouldn't meet up again. The kiss at the end of the first film didn't feel like it was leading nowhere. That they held hands during one of their last moments in bed, a sign of closeness that wasn't expected, and that Salander finally visited her mom in the nursing home after years of being away, and that the story wrapped up with so many nice bits of reconciliation, had me thinking Salander had softened, that she might take a new approach -- that even against her own understanding when telling her mom, "No one should fall in love," she was perhaps finding love to be more than a feeling, but a commitment to another, even for purposes of busting out of isolation.

But isolated she remains except for tracks left on the Internet.

I don't like the setup, and that may be original writer Stieg Larsson's fault more than the team I mentioned. Still, a gratuitous sex scene that served nothing to advance the storyline (and reminded me of older days when R-rated films meant an obligatory sex scene within the first 40 minutes), and a confusing mess of a plot and a few subplots leave me thinking that the screen writing couldn't squeeze the book into the span of two hours. When the credits rolled, I thought we were half-way done. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is over 2-1/2 hours long. I guess I was expecting everything to be like it was there, with a wonderful ending that tied all the loose ends together. Instead, it ended, and I'm hoping that something in the third film tells us all that I missed. Otherwise, it is an undesirable film on its own.

In a way, the concluding film could actually redeem some of this, depending on whether some of what I just saw is actually explained.

But nothing will make up for one of the final scenes in particular, a riff on the second Kill Bill film, that left me stunned at its unbelievability -- so stunned that I stopped by a Borders on the way home simply to see if the same thing is in the end of the book. It is. And that is unfortunate. It is the first time I've seen actual laziness in the creative process for the fiction at the heart of these stories.

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