November 3, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (11/03/2010)

Lettergrade: A-
"Oh Lisbeth! It's the Big One! I'm coming to join you honey."
-Fred Sanford
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest is based on the third part of the late Steig Larsson's "Millennium" books, which were all filmed as a Swedish miniseries in 2009, but recut for the States and released as separate movies this year (with subtitles). The series follows the exploits of investigative journalist Michael Blomqvist and his complicated relationship with the mysterious and intriguing Lisbeth Salander, a punk bisexual computer hacker who has a deeply troubled past. I don't think I found this third film to be quite as stellar as the first one, but I'll give it the same lettergrade anyway for succeeding as an excellent thriller, as a satisfying legal drama, and as a fitting close to the high-caliber series.

I greatly enjoyed the first picture, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, as a well-above-average potboiler featuring atypically compelling characters (and in part because I had pretty much no expectations going in). The second movie, The Girl Who Played With Fire, while still enjoyable, stumbled a bit for me. Instead of simply working on a independent mystery, as Blomqvist and Lisbeth did in the first picture, the second story had them caught up in a larger conspiracy plot that delved deeper into Lisbeth's personal history. The tone was quite different, and certain key elements felt like they were on loan from the James Bond franchise: The blond muscle-bound thug who could not feel pain, the mysterious villainous Zala, who was hideously deformed from an accident earlier in his life, etc. The story was a little sleazier (gratuitous lesbian sex scenes for Lisbeth), there was all this weird shaky cam stuff, and less satisfaction came from the crime solvin' aspect as the two leads were kept apart for virtually the whole movie.

The second film was also designed as something of a cliffhanger that would lead more or less directly into this one. Getting into the nuances of the plot would be pointless for the uninitiated and redundant for those who have already read Larsson's books. Suffice to say that part 3 brings several elements of the first two pictures to a boil, and finds Lisbeth defending herself in court for much of it. The picture seemed to tone down a lot of aspects that I had a problem with in part 2 (thankfully, Zala's appearance in this one is brief), and gotten into territory that doesn't necessarily recreate what the first movie was, but is arguably just as effective.

It's interesting to me that all three stories feature much older characters attempting to keep covered crimes that were committed long ago. In this film, as in the others, we spend time with seemingly-benign, grandfatherly men who it turns out have done some pretty messed up, horrible things earlier in life. Hornet's Nest features a governmental group called "The Section" which was formed long ago to protect Soviet spies who defected to Sweden (presumably for the health-care, the world-renowned culinary offerings of the Swedish Chef, and for the excellent, inexpensive build-it-yourself furniture that populates the land). Early in the movie, the now-elderly guys meet up to discuss what to do about the growing threat of their program being exposed, and who they need to kill to keep it a secret. It's sort of a like a bizarro scene from Cocoon, where Hume Cronyn and Don Ameche draw up a list of people to brutally murder. I was amused later in the movie when a member of the geriatric mafia takes a break from his dialysis treatments and dodders into a local hospital to bump a key player off.

Larsson's plan was have the series continue well beyond this entry, but he died suddenly after completing the manuscripts for parts 2 and 3 (although a fourth unpublished one is said to be caught up in a battle over Larsson's estate). I bring this up because although the various threads were not necessarily intended to be all tied up by the end of this third story, the film, at least, concludes everything in a way that I found extremely satisfying.

My journal entry on part 1, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

And my entry on part 2, The Girl Who Played With Fire

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