The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second in the Millennium Trilogy, a Swedish series of adaptations from the novels penned by the late Stieg Larsson. These films, as well as the novels that inspired them, have caused something of a storm all over the world and are currently being remade in the US. Less a sequel than a continuation, the film is, for better or worse, more of the same.
The film takes place about a year after the end of the first instalment, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. After some time in hiding, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) returns to investigate a sex-trafficking ring with her loyal sidekick Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), editor of watchdog magazine Millennium. Various shady characters conspire against the couple, and its not long before Salander is framed for three murders. Salander and Mikael follow alternate lines of investigation, with Mikael simultaneously getting deeper into the investigation and trying to clear Salander’s name. As the investigation continues, Salander finds things getting a little too close to home. By the end, many of the mysteries behind this most vague of lead characters are revealed.
Many of the surprises that came with the earlier The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and which made the film a pleasing diversion, are missing here. The novelty value of a big Swedish production mimicking the conventional Hollywood thriller is exhausted. The Girl Who Played With Fire has no such saving grace and, unfortunately, it is noticeably the lesser of the two films.
However, the film does retain much of what made the first film an enjoyable watch. The plotting is intricate and somewhat engaging, while the moody atmosphere and good use of scenery are both features that keep the film interesting. The often stark countryside and the bright but empty city evoke both a palpable realism as well as a vicious criminal underworld. While the first film is much more hard-edged, with a rape scene that was hard to watch and some genuinely chilling moments, the second is less successful in maintaining a sense of evil.
The problems are more pronounced than in the first film, mainly because they are repeated. The film really isn’t as clever as it thinks it is, and is certainly not above the most screeching of plot machinations to get characters to where they need to be. The unintentional comedy makes a somewhat welcome return, giving the film an entertainment value it might otherwise have lacked. There is the sudden appearance of an entirely unnecessary and rather schlocky lesbian sex scene and as well as the long-awaited reveal of a scarred bad guy. This is possibly the film’s funniest moment, being both an unexpected reminder of splatter classic Braindead and an Airplane-style example of straight-faced madness. These moments are the sequences that remind you of what it was you liked about the Millennium series in the first place. A certain silliness played entirely seriously, which can’t help but be a little fun.
All in all, The Girl Who Played With Fire is an entertaining film with a good sense of humour, even if it doesn’t know it itself. The visuals remain the best thing about it, possibly being the one feature that holds this ramshackle but enjoyable series together.