The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2010)
The worldwide publishing phenomenon comes to a close with the third and final film, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. In the span of nine months, all three Swedish films, based on the late Stieg Larsson’s best-selling books, have been released stateside. Hollywood is already filming the first of three remakes directed by David Fincher (Fight Club), with Fincher’s Social Network star Rooney Mara in Lisbeth’s chunky shoes. Releasing three films in one year, mere months apart, has given the series the feeling of an event. The Girl Who Played with Fire left a lot to tie up, but audiences steeped in the Larsson’s sordid particulars should find something rewarding, albeit unspectacular, in this final chapter.
The third film picks up immediately after events from the previous story. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), punky computer hacker and international badass, is being airlifted to a hospital. She is recovering from a brawl with her father that left her with a bullet in her skull and him with an axe lodged in his (surprisingly, both live. Credit Swedish healthcare). Her father, Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), was a Soviet spy that defected to Sweden in the 1970s. He is a high-value informant, which means that anyone who would compromise or expose Zalachenko needs to be dealt with. And if Zalachenko is going to speak his mind, perhaps he needs to be silenced as well. Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), muckraking journalist and Lisbeth’s staunch ally, is trying to protect his friend and one-time lover by exposing the corrupt and powerful. Lisbeth is trying to be silenced, and if assassins don’t work then the state will try her for attempted murder and lock her away in a mental institution, the same institution that Lisbeth was committed to at 12 when she tried to save her mother by setting her abusive father ablaze. The sinister Dr. Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom) admitted Lisbeth when she was a child and is eager to have her back in his clutches. He and the other crooked government officials will stop at nothing to put her away and stop Mikael from publishing the truth.
So at the axe-swingin’ conclusion of Girl Who Played with Fire, I felt that some of my conclusion had to be put on hold until I could see the third film, the conclusion to what seemed like one larger film. For Fire I wrote: “As such, it’s hard to fully analyze certain storylines at play. I imagine that the sex trafficking storyline will carry on with the third film because of the tease that high-profile figures in government and police offices were involved. It already establishes a conflict and a set of antagonists ready for the third film. Then again, I may be too hopeful and the storylines of interest in Part Two may be completely dropped or mishandled by Part Three (see: Matrix sequels, Pirates of the Caribbean sequels).” Guess what happened? Dropped storylines abound as well as a lack of follow-through on most everything but the major storylines involving Lisbeth’s tortured personal history.
Now that we can all witness how Lisbeth and Mikael have walked off into that Swedish sunset, I can finally and conclusively say that the second film is incomplete and will never be complete. The loose ends abound and characters are completely forgotten, like Lisbeth’s Asian friend/sometime-lover and her boxing pal who took a beating. Apparently their narrative purpose was to take Lisbeth’s licks (could this be the greatest double entendre in the history of film criticism? Yes). The brute that dished out those bruises is a blonde baddie named Neidermann who looks like he was ripped from a bad James Bond flick. He is a straggling loose end that circles the narrative like a lost child in a supermarket (“Are you my mother?”). The high-reaching sex trafficking ring featured in Fire has a tenuous connection to Hornet’s Nest; in Fire we talk about an Evil Shadowy Government and in Hornet’s Nest we see the faces of that Evil Shadowy Government Agents.
If the first film was a slow-burning and lurid thriller, the second film a preposterous action film, then the third film falls clearly into the genre of legal thriller. The majority of the plot revolves around the People vs. Lisbeth Salander. The sluggish opening gives way to a sluggish series of pre-trial preparations. Mikael assigns his sister to serve as Lisbeth’s attorney, and thus we see the behind-the-scenes arrangements as far as gathering evidence, building a case, plotting arguments and counter-arguments, preparing Lisbeth to confront the men who have caused her such suffering and anguish. And being a courtroom thriller, we also get a heavy dose of new characters, almost all of them elderly and somewhat menacing (a guy with cancer even becomes a hired gun for One Last Job). There are a lot of liver-spotted faces to try and sort through, so it helps when the filmmakers add touches to set them apart (one of them wears a bow tie, another has glasses). Given the lethargic nature of assembling a court case, the pacing can get pretty slack. Then there’s the issue of Lisbeth. She spends almost the entire movie in police custody and the first hour or so confined to a hospital bed. It doesn’t make for pulse-pounding stuff. Lisbeth is a willful, defiant, quick-witted creature so it feels like she’s like a caged bird in this third and final film.
Rapace is starting to catch serious Hollywood heat and deservedly so because once again she commands the screen. At first when the series began I was unsure of her acting abilities considering her mysterious character is forced to respond through a prism of emotional reserve. She doesn’t speak much but her intense, cold stares speak volumes to the turmoil she has bubbling under the surface. Restrained to a hospital bed or a jail cell, Rapace is given even less to work with. The part is nearly mute for long stretches of plot. Yet Rapace finds new and interesting ways to channel her character’s intensity and allow the audience to view her thought process. It’s a sign of a talented actor when a character’s internal thinking can become transparent without the need for hyperactive expressions. Lisbeth Salander is a complicated character and the audience deserves to have such an intriguing presence fleshed out into three dimensions. I wrote about the disappointing downgrade of Lisbeth’s character in Fire: “We project the interest we felt for her from the first film to the Salander stand-in represented in the second film. She’s still a resourceful, loyal, and cavalier presence, but the plot corners her into being a creature of action. She becomes the fantasy bisexual ass-kicking protagonist that was merely hinted at previously. That sounds like a good thing, but trust me, it does the audience a disservice to box in such a fascinating character.” With Hornet’s Nest, we discover the extent of how men have damaged her, which focuses more attention on the person of Lisbeth rather than the Gothic aesthetics. It’s a return to form even if Lisbeth is still remote.
Luckily, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest does manage to offer a satisfying sense of closure. The series has several bad men doing bad things, so it’s rewarding that after sitting through close to seven hours of material yields some long-awaited justice for Lisbeth Salander. We yearn desperately for this pint-sized gal to get her vengeance and for the powerful to find their comeuppance. Watching the antagonists fall would be more fulfilling if they weren’t only introduced a mere hour ago in this movie. Salander doesn’t get to put on her Gothic war paint until her first court appearance. It feels like a triumphant return, complete with a towering and imposing mohawk. Blomkvist’s storylines will always be the movie’s weak point considering he has to compete with the likes of the audacious Salander. In Hornet’s Nest, his magazine team is threatened but you never really take any of it seriously, because of course the crusading journalist will stick by Lisbeth. The ending is less than desired and tries to recycle some of the same action tropes that lead Girl Who Played with Fire astray. The final scene leaves you with a sense of, “Oh, so that really is it? Better get my coat then.”
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest works as a mostly fitting capper to a long-standing mystery series. The bad guys are punished, the good guys prevail, there’s an open-ended resolution that leaves you squirming for more, especially now that Lisbeth is a free woman. At a bloated 145 minutes, Hornet’s Nest can often feel like an overextended Swedish episode of Law and Order. There’s a good 45 minutes that probably could have been left on the cutting room floor. At times the movie feels like it’s lurching along, caught up in the mountain of details. But then it generally finds a way to regain momentum and head to a satisfying close. Still, it’s disappointing that for the majority of the two sequels Lisbeth and Blomkvist have rarely been onscreen together. They worked so well as a team in the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I never would have thought that the sequels would take that concept and keep them apart for as long as possible. Too bad author Stieg Larsson isn’t around to write new adventures for his characters, though there are rumors about an unfinished fourth manuscript left on Larsson’s laptop. Until that gets sorted out between Larsson’s widow and his family in Swedish court, I guess the world will have to settle for the forthcoming Hollywood remakes.
Nate’s Grade: B-