The sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo lacks the first film's ominous atmosphere and pervasive sense of evil, though plenty of depravity can be found. The storyline is more complicated than Dragon Tattoo's classic whodunnit and thus harder to follow for anyone who hasn't read Stieg Larsson's bestselling crime thrillers.
And yet the twists and turns of The Girl Who Played with Fire turn out to be rewarding anyway, especially for fans of the series, largely due to the spell already cast by the terrific Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander, the punk computer hacker who bedded, befriended and helped journalist Mikael Blomkvist (unsung hero Michael Nyqvist, who is also well cast) track down a killer.
The new film opens about a year after the events of Dragon Tattoo, and an acquaintance with its predecessor is vital. Lisbeth has been traveling the world on stolen funds (from a bad guy, so morally she's still OK). Because of changes in Dragon Tattoo's script regarding the busy sex life of Blomkvist, transformed by the movies into a one-woman-at-a-time guy, Lisbeth's refusal to contact her old partner is somewhat unexplained. The script seems to want us to chalk it up to her natural prickliness and distrust of men. Fair enough. After her brutal rape at the hands of her perverted guardian Bjurman, she has reason to be skeptical.
Blomkvist still hopes Lisbeth will contact him or, at least, spy on his e-mail, but he's got his hands full over at Millennium magazine, which is gearing up to run a shocking piece on human trafficking by an eager young freelancer. Blomkvist is not pining unreasonably, either; his affair with colleague Erika Berger emerges in this film, though her role is hacked considerably. Meanwhile, Bjurman, still seething over Lisbeth's having turned the tables on him, seems to be plotting revenge.
Then a series of murders pulls the narrative threads taut. Though evidence ties Lisbeth, now back in Sweden, to the crimes, Blomkvist is certain she's innocent. His investigation begins to unravel a chilling government conspiracy with roots in Lisbeth's mysterious past.
Like its predecessor, The Girl Who Played With Fire prunes Larsson's story to its essence, making short work of bits that easily could have been trimmed from the book (Larsson's trilogy may be spellbinding, but at least two books could have used some editing). All the basics are there, though, although the desperate fight between the menacing blond giant and boxer Paolo Roberto is less epic than you may have wished.
Still, the film belongs to Rapace, who (along with Nyqvist) has to contend with the fact that Lisbeth and Blomkvist share only one brief scene. The story is far from finished; the film can't help but feel like a bridge to its end. But the power of that partnership forged in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remains strong.