(No longer in theaters)
Music Box Films
Oct 29, 2010
The single arresting image in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third and draggiest film in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy, is Noomi Rapace as the damaged, bisexual, heavily pierced cybergirl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander—but only in the last half-hour (of two and a half), when she hauls herself out of her hospital bed and dresses for her attempted-murder trial. Rapace has a striking face to begin with, all sharp angles and flat planes, and for court she wears a towering mohawk and nose ring, her eyes and lips rimmed in black, looking like a cross between Grace Jones and Edward Scissorhands. Among these pale old Swedes, this statue-still icon of racial and sexual transgression leaps out of the screen. But talk about all dressed up with nowhere to go—it’s like Halloween night on C-Span.
I’m not a fan of the late Larsson’s prose (or that of his quasi-English translator), but I can understand his books’ peculiar pull. He was that rare commercial novelist whose paranoia wasn’t driven by opportunism: His investigative-journalism career convinced him that conspiracies weren’t the stuff of theories but the bedrock of a malevolent social order. And he saw women—when they weren’t jumping into bed with his alter ego, the indefatigable Larsson-like aging journalist Blomkvist—as especially vulnerable. In three books, every kind of predator except vampires turns up to menace Salander: buggering pedophile perverts; neo-Nazi serial sex killers; ex-KGB, burn-scarred, insanely vindictive patriarchs; and my personal favorite, a mute, Teutonic albino giant genetically impervious to pain. Buffy had it easy.
In Hornet’s Nest, the conspiracy to silence Salander reaches into the most sclerotic echelons of the Swedish government. After only one feeble assassination attempt, the bad guys totter back to their wheelchairs and respirators and try to work through bureaucratic channels. The process is a tad slow. Larsson is renowned for his attention to marginal details, which gives his prose a rambling, one-thing-after-another pace that many readers find soothing. Onscreen, the lack of acceleration makes for one of those long Scandinavian winter nights.
The first film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, had a different director, Niels Arden Oplev, and at least hit its marks: The cyberhacking of Salander complemented the shoe-leather reporting of Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and vice versa, and the two outcasts’ growing bond—and their revenge on multiple foes—was reasonably fun to watch. But the next two, directed by Daniel Alfredson, are like extended footnotes. Here, as in The Girl Who Played With Fire, Salander and Blomkvist have practically no contact. Imagine your favorite duos—Nick and Nora, Steed and Mrs. Peel, Beavis and Butthead—limited to one phone call and a quick wave.
Having been beaten and shot, Salander spends most of Hornet’s Nest in that hospital bed glaring in mute outrage. I don’t blame her. At the end of the last film, she took an ax to the father who tried to kill her, and now she’s being put on trial for attempted murder: The hapless secret Swedish cabal of old white men wants to put her in an asylum under the supervision of a sadistic Fascist pedophile shrink. Salander’s sympathetic surgeon tells prosecutors she’s not well enough to talk to them, so weeks go by while they sit on their hands outside her hospital room and she begins to write a memoir of her abuse. Oprah could get to her faster than these bad guys.
It almost doesn’t matter that The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest has so little sting. Most fans have moved on to speculation over a possible book four allegedly being held for ransom by Larsson’s girlfriend. (Watch out for albinos, babe.) There’s also that remake in production by new auteurist darling David Fincher, who in Zodiac proved that he could imbue the most insignificant bit of minutia with his patented malignancy. But does Fincher have the stuff to stiffen up Larsson’s flaccid plotting? (I consider that a macho dare.)