Now that the third film in the "Millennium" trilogy has been released, it seems like the right time to take a look at all three films. Since this story was always conceived as a trilogy, it seems difficult and premature to talk about each individual film. Yes, they can each be pulled apart and critiqued, but without the knowledge of what happens in all three films, how is it possible to determine if an individual character's story arch is complete, or if the beginning, middle and each are satisfying. Quite simply, the first two films don't really have an end.
Larsson helps with this, providing fairly conclusive stories in each segment.
Written as three books, author Stieg Larsson unravels an epic, violent, complicated look at the life of a young woman, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace, soon to co-star in "Mission Impossible IV"), is given the raw end of the deal by a group of men trying to cover up a very big political secret and they have made her life a living hell.
In fact, graphic is another good one word description for this film. I tried to read the book and just couldn't get into it; the Swedish names made it difficult for me to become involved in the story. Just as I was about to try again, the first film was released. As America was working its way through the trilogy, I had the opportunity to read a new book by Hanning Mankell, the other famous Swedish novelist. Strangely, it is also very graphically violent, much like this film (and from what I understand, the book). It seems odd two different works would be similar in this way. Does this point to a trend in Sweden?
I am glad these films were originally made in their native Sweden. Honestly, I don't see how Hollywood will retain the graphic, violent nature of these stories. Hollywood is uncomfortable depicting sex and when you throw violence into the mix, it almost never makes it to the local multiplex. I don't see this happening in the American remakes, but if any director can capture this feeling, this mood, it is David Fincher who is already directing the first film of the trilogy.
Ultimately, each film can be summed up with one word. Mystery. Revenge. Retribution.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
We are first introduced to Mykael Bloomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), the editor of a small political magazine called Millennium; it may be a small publication but Mykael wants it to be the next Rolling Stone, all of the political reporting he can accomplish with the huge readership of a more popular magazine. Mykael prints allegations about a famous Swedish businessman who then sues him for libel. Mykael loses and, in an effort to save the magazine, decides to distance himself from the publication. And he is also scheduled to serve a prison term beginning in six months, so he has to find something to fill the time. He agrees to meet with a semi-reclusive elderly businessman in a remote part of Sweden. Fearing he will die soon, the industrialist wants Mykael to find his niece who has been missing for forty years. Everyone else in the family has long since decided she is dead, but the uncle has his doubts. Mykael is intrigued and agrees to help.
Early in the investigation, Mykael realizes someone has hacked into his laptop and becomes intrigued. Eventually, he learns Lisbeth is the hacker and she is also the investigator who looked into his background at the behest of the businessman he is now working for. Recognizing she has a unique skill set, he asks her to help him in the investigation.
Lisbeth is not your ordinary young woman. Tough and determined, she has learned a lot on her own and decided she will no longer suffer abuse at the hands of the men who control her life. A ward of the state, she uses Mykael's mystery as an opportunity to escape the realities and horrors of her life.
During the investigation, they crisscross the Swedish countryside looking for clues, slowly unraveling a complicated and graphic mystery spanning many decades.
In "Dragon Tattoo", Mykael and Lisbeth seem to share the story, working together, helping each other through their respective stories. We also learn a little about each of their back-stories.
The Girl Who Played With Fire
The one word to describe "Fire"? Revenge.
Now that Mykael's life is more or less back to normal, Larsson moves the focus to Lisbeth. As the layers of her life are revealed, we move deeper into this story and realize how twisted and bizarre her upbringing has been. For too long, people have been the cause of the trouble in her life and she has now decided she can't and won't take it any longer and sets out to extract revenge on the people who are responsible.
As she begins this quest, Mykael seems all but forgotten which is strange. Given the nature of their relationship as established in "Dragon Tattoo", you would expect him to be more important to this story, more present, more involved. Instead, we see and hear of him working in the background. He pops up occasionally, but this is Lisbeth's story now. Because of Lisbeth's independent nature, her upbringing and the fact so many men have treated her so badly, the fact she becomes a lone vigilante fits with her character. But just because it is true to her nature, doesn't make it more satisfying to the viewer who wants to see more of her former partner.
Much like "Dragon Tattoo", "Fire" doesn't really end, it seems to pause temporarily and then the credits start. The filmmaker is being as true to the source material as possible, allowing for the next chapter and the next film. Even so, this film seems anti-climatic and less concerned with story. The film is all about Lisbeth tracking down her father and half-brother and each of them beating the heck out of each other.
That said, when "Fire" ends, you might breathe a sigh of relief because you get a break from all of the violence.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
One word to describe this entry? Retribution.
Picking up exactly where "Fire" ends, after getting severely beaten and shot a number of times, Lisbeth hangs onto life by a thread. A helicopter flies her to a hospital and she receives emergency treatment. Then, she must mend and recover from a coma.
This gives us a chance to get reacquainted with Mykael. He is determined to create a special issue of Millennium, providing the details of Lisbeth's life and exposing the conspiracy behind her treatment. He enlists the staff to rundown leads and obtain proof. Mykael wants to expose all of the corruption, all of the cover-ups, everything contributing to her treatment.
As Mykael works to uncover the truth, the people behind the cover-up are just as determined to keep things secret. Two of the men responsible, now retired and waiting to die, watch the events unfold and decide they must act. As far as they are concerned, there are two problems, Lisbeth and her father, Zalachenko, both of whom are recuperating in the hospital. One of the retired men, barely able to breathe, pays a visit to the hospital and meets with Zalachenko first. Things don't go well, they get noisy and panic ensues. The plan is to take care of both Lisbeth and her father, but Lisbeth's lawyer, Mykael's sister, manages to keep her safe.
These shadowy government officials and Lisbeth's former psychiatrist, the truly evil Dr. Teleborian continue to try to get to her, but they are thwarted by a number of people and Lisbeth makes it to the trial.
As Lisbeth's trial begins, Mykael continues to work tirelessly to bring the next issue of Millennium to print. But the same shadowy figures learn of his plans and work to stop him as well. At any cost, putting Mykael and his staff in danger.
The trial is an interesting piece of filmmaking. Basically, we watch everyone lie about Lisbeth. Then, when Lisbeth takes the stand, she recounts her story, describing what we have already seen. This should be a fairly boring piece of storytelling; film is visual, so watching people describe things and events, especially something we have already witnessed, should be boring. But this portion of the film is strangely impactful. Part of the reason for this stems from the fact we have witnessed all of this before. Lisbeth has been treated so brutally, so indifferently, so poorly by everyone in her life that we have to question whether she will make it through the trial and if she will be convicted of the charges sending her back to a psychiatric hospital. It could go either way. In fact, if the trial were to go against her, it would be more in keeping with the rest of the story. Also, because we have witnessed all of this, we root for her. We want her to be victorious. We want and need her to win the trial.
"Hornet's Nest" is too long and I have to think Larsson could have easily written four books. Maybe he originally intended to do such a thing but got cold feet, a trilogy is more common, more acceptable than a quadrilogy. Lisbeth's recovery and Mykael's investigation should be the third film. Is it even necessary to sit through Lisbeth's trial? At least depicted in the same level of detail? No.
The ending feels tacked on, like the author felt there needed to be one more confrontation. It just isn't necessary.
Then, there is another bit of business and this scene feels anticlimactic. Much like the previous two films, the narrative simply ends and the credits roll after a brief shot of a city from across a bay.
"The Millennium Trilogy" is an interesting, necessary film experience. The filmmaker's earn points for depicting the brutal life of a young woman, in an honest, explicit way. Lisbeth and Mykael are interesting and vivid characters. And their on-screen relationship is also pretty great.
But the mystery of "Dragon Tattoo" doesn't play a part in the next two installments. Connecting this to Lisbeth's history or Mykael in some personal way would have helped give their story so much more resonance. Really, the first film only serves to introduce us to the main characters and paint a little of the back-story.
In the following two films, Lisbeth's back-story takes center stage. In "Fire", everyone seems to be trying to kill everyone else; one confrontation after another and it starts to have an effect on you. This effect isn't necessarily a good one. When "Fire" ends, you may breathe a sigh of relief.
"Hornet's Nest" seems more like a recap. It's good. It holds your interest. But a lot could have been trimmed, giving the film a faster, more exciting pace.
"The Girl…" is imperfect, but still a must see for mystery fans.