The third of the Swedish films based on Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular “Millennium trilogy” of novels, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” finally brings to a close the epic, sordid tale of emotionally damaged computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and her heroic journalist friend Mikael Blomkvist.
The first films, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” were solid, engrossing mysteries. But they’ve become less involving each time.
“Dragon” was a suspenseful, sometimes hard-to-watch introduction to Lisbeth (the smoldering Noomi Rapace) and why she is the way she is — defiantly independent, resourceful, feral. She met Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) when he hired her to help in his search for a woman who had been missing for decades.
That search led to uncovering a massive, seedy political underground, which coincidentally involved Lisbeth’s past and her relationship with her father.
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The second film explored that connection more. And while it was still exciting, “Played With Fire” lost some of its heart, mainly because the main characters were never seen together until the end. During the story, Lisbeth is set up and accused of three murders she didn’t commit.
In the end, Mikael comes to Lisbeth’s rescue, after she had been shot three times (including in the head) and then buried alive by her father. They don’t exactly have a loving relationship, especially considering that Lisbeth set him on fire when she was a little girl. Her horrible past is laid out even more in “Hornet’s Nest.”
The film starts immediately after Lisbeth’s rescue. She is hospitalized while recovering from her extensive injuries, and she will soon be transferred to prison when she’s well enough.
Meanwhile, Mikael is committed to exposing the massive conspiracy and all of its key political players before Lisbeth’s trial starts to help in her defense. But death threats against his business partner could possibly halt the publication of his findings.
When Lisbeth finally goes to trial, the film switches gears to become a courtroom drama, and the case is presented.
While we’re still thoroughly invested in the characters, the story here just isn’t as captivating. For the first half of its 148 minutes, we mostly wait for Lisbeth to get better. It’s a testament to Rapace’s performance — and mostly her presence — that we remain enthralled with her.
The same goes for Nyqvist as Mikael. He has the task of moving the story along, driven by his obsession to reveal Lisbeth’s innocence, which is seeded in loyalty after she saved his life in the first film. We still root for him, but his character arc doesn’t really, well, arc.
And when the action moves to the courtroom, the trial is strangely devoid of any tension. Not until the story’s exciting final moments are we reminded of the films that came before it.
Still, it’s hugely rewarding and satisfying to see beloved characters’ stories come to a close, and to bid them farewell.
For now, anyway. An American version of the trilogy to be directed by David Fincher is in the works, with the first film to be released in 2011. Daniel Craig (“Casino Royale”) will play Mikael Blomkvist.