There is a level of weary resignation to the tone of this third in a trilogy of film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series of novels. The worldwide phenomenon began in 2008 with the U.S. release of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a seedy tale of a disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, his mysterious punk hacker helper, Lisbeth Salander, and a missing-person case that brought the two together with magnetic chemistry.
The following year brought a Swedish adaptation of the first book, which breathed pulsing life into the characters, inhabited by Michael Nyqvist and a revelatory Noomi Rapace as the titular girl. Directed masterfully by Niels Arden Oplev, Dragon Tattoo was epic yet underplayed, and seemed to set the stage for a crime trilogy to rival the best, from The Godfather to Red Riding.
Later that year, the filmmaking principals, minus the cast, were replaced and the sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, was rushed out. It was a nasty, exploitative hack job that inserted unstoppable killers in place of the first’s shady, calculating list of suspects, and silly motorcycle sequences where character depth used to be. To say Fire took the wind out of the franchise’s sails is an understatement, and now the final installment, from the same writer and director of the second, sighs into theaters with a whimper.
The film’s attitude is personified by the physical state of Salander, who was beaten, shot and buried alive at the end of Fire, and now recovers in a hospital bed that dwarfs her waif-like body. The forces that put her there – namely, her own family – now want her silenced for good. The problem is that she did quite a number on her nemesis, Alexander Zalachenko, a member of the faction (ominously named the Section), and he’s threatening to expose the Section. So this secret group of evildoers makes it their mission to take them both out.
Meanwhile, Blomkvist is still trying to clear Salander’s name of accusations she faced in the second film, while at the same time putting the puzzle pieces of the Section together in what he hopes will be an exposé that will topple key government figures and absolve Salander, who goes directly to jail after her recovery while awaiting trial. The Section wants her declared mentally unfit and put in the care of the same doctor who molested and tortured her as a youth and who is in the Section’s pocket.
Plot, plot, plot, that’s all they ever do and it’s all this film has. Nykvist and Rapace look almost sad that they have to fulfill this lost cause as they walk through the motions of a movie that mistakes exposition for intriguing dialogue. So little actually happens – Rapace spends almost the entire film either on a hospital bed or in a stuffy, private courtroom – that virtually any time a character moves it’s played as an action sequence.
Still, by doing the very least he could do, director Daniel Alfredson does well to get out of the way and let the politics and scheming play themselves out. That Hornet’s Nest is passable only because it’s not as horrendous as Fire is enough to believe that this property may be irredeemably tarnished.
Its only remaining hope is that of director David Fincher (The Social Network), whose American Dragon Tattoo remake is scheduled for release next December. It’s funny how back in March when the remake, and Fincher’s involvement, was confirmed, it was met with suspicion. Two Swedish sequels later, the material longs for Hollywood’s story-telling.
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