One of the things that sucks about being a pop culture junkie is that, over time, it sets up an echo chamber that becomes inescapable. EVERYTHING starts to remind you of something else. Genuinely surprising books or movies or comics become rarer and rarer. A case in point is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Shortly after I wrote about it in the spring, it occurred to me that it was a variant on Holmes and Watson, with Lisabeth Salander as Holmes, near-psychic leaps of intuition included. I had this firmly in mind when I sat down to watch that film's first sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009, directed by Daniel Alfredson), which strikes me as one of the mid-period Rathbone and Bruce Holmes films--The Spider Woman, perhaps. (Yeah. That fits.) Of course the analogy breaks down on inspection. Lisabeth is less like Holmes in this movie, and Blomqvist is cast in the role of the lead detective this time. For the most part, it's more conventional than its predecessor, both cinematically and in its plot construction, and it's probably not as good, but it does illuminate some of the choices that film made.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably own up to the fact that I haven't read the books and don't intend to until I've seen all of the movies (if then).
One persistent conversation I've had about the first film concerns the rape scene. More than one of my correspondents thought it was gratuitous (Tenebrous Kate over at the Tenebrous Empire suggested that though it was a necessary scene, the filmmakers chose too many shots in which Noomi Rapace seems to be "posing" too much). On the evidence of that film only, an argument can be made. Little did I realize that that scene would become central to the sequel. Nor is that the only trauma from the first film that becomes central here.
The plot of The Girl Who Played With Fire finds Lisabeth framed for multiple murders. Blomqvist, ever the knight errant, is convinced of her innocence and sets out to prove it. There's a lot of other plot about sex trafficking and Cold War defectors, too, but these serve the main plot. The plot of this movie is a little bit more interesting than its predecessor from a psychological point of view; I hope it doesn't give too much away to say that this ultimately turns into a more sanguinary version one of those Bergman movies about families tearing each other apart. It maneuvers itself into a memorable final sequence that wouldn't be out of place in a horror movie. (I approve!). But none of this matters.
As with the first film, the fun in watching the movie is in watching the characters. Blomqvist, again played by Michael Nyqvist, remains the second fiddle, in spite of a lot more screen time than Lisabeth, again definitively played by Rapace. The movie manages the neat trick of putting her in the crucible to see what makes her tick, not Blomqvist, in spite of the fact that she's often the Maguffin. The movie is a tour of her dark places. She herself is the central mystery, and the movie runs the risk of explaining her away. Fortunately, it stops just short.