As The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest confirms, Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy is even more draggy on the screen than in print. Yet even in this medium it exerts a peculiar pull: Larsson was that rare mass-market novelist whose paranoia wasn't even a little bit driven by commercial opportunism. His career as an investigative journalist convinced him that conspiracies weren't the stuff of theories, but the bedrock of a malevolent social order.
And women -- when they weren't jumping into bed with his alter ego, the indefatigable Larsson-like journalist Mikael Blomkvist -- were especially vulnerable. In three books -- please note that many spoilers lurk just around the corner -- every kind of predator except vampires turns up to menace that damaged, heavily pierced cyber-girl with the dragon tattoo: sadistic pedophiles; neo-Nazi serial sex murderers; burn-scarred, insanely vindictive ex-KGB patriarchs; and my personal favorite, a mute, Teutonic albino giant genetically impervious to pain.
In Hornet's Nest, the conspiracy to silence Lisbeth Salander reaches to the highest levels of the Swedish government. But the bad guys mostly go after her through bureaucratic channels, and that means it takes an inordinately long time to get to where we already know we're going.
Larsson is renowned for his attention to marginal detail, which gives his prose a rambling, one-thing-after-another pace that many readers find oddly soothing. The director of films two and three, Daniel Alfredson, captured this distinctive lack of acceleration at the climax of The Girl Who Played with Fire: As Salander, played by Noomi Rapace, sneaks onto a rural estate to kill the man who's trying to kill her, Blomkvist, played by Michael Nykvist, speeds out of Stockholm to save her -- and gets caught in traffic. Salander pokes perilously around the property while Blomkvist takes the highway exit at the posted 25 miles an hour. Salander gets jumped by the albino; Blomkvist stops to check his map. The villain aims his gun at Salander, and Blomkvist ... turns into a McDonald's drive-through (Not really, though he might as well.) And after all that, the bad guys don't even die.
So here we are at Part 3, in the Hornet's Nest, and as in the last movie Blomkvist and Salander barely share a scene. Having been beaten and shot, Salander spends most of the film's 148 minutes in a hospital bed, glaring in mute outrage. I don't blame her. She took an ax to the guy who'd shot her and whose albino henchman is on the lam and killing cops, and she's being prosecuted? For attempted murder?
The bad guys, see, want her in an asylum under the care of her old fascist pedophile shrink. Blomkvist muses that it's like a classic Greek tragedy -- which strikes me as delusions of grandeur. It's not clear, even now, what Salander knows that makes the hapless cabal of really old men want to silence her. A sympathetic doctor says she's not well enough to talk to prosecutors, so weeks go by while they sit on their hands outside Salander's hospital room and she writes a memoir of her abuse. Oprah could get to her faster than the villains.
The first film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, at least hit its marks: Salander's cyber-hacking complemented Blomkvist's shoe-leather reporting and vice versa, and the two outcasts' growing bond -- and the revenge they took on multiple foes -- was fun to watch. But the second and third films are like interminable footnotes. The only thing of interest in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is Noomi Rapace, and only in the last half hour, once she's hauled herself out of her hospital bed.
Rapace has a striking face to begin with, all sharp angles and flat planes, and now she wears a towering Mohawk and a nose ring. She's pierced all over, her eyes and lips rimmed in black, looking like a cross between Grace Jones and Edward Scissorhands. In the context of these pale Swedes, she leaps out of the screen, no 3-D glasses required.
But talk about all dressed up with nowhere to go. It's like Halloween night on C-SPAN.