‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ Provides an Imperfect but Satisfying Finish to the Millennium Trilogy

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest movie poster

The journey of Lisbeth Salander came to an end (in Sweden anyway) with the release of the third and last film in the Millennium Trilogy, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” Picking up where the last one left off, we watch as Lisbeth (the ever superb Noomi Rapace) slowly recuperates from the injuries inflicted on her by less than caring family members. Soon after, she is forced to stand trial for murders and crimes we all know she did not commit, so Mikael Blomkvist (the late Michael Nyqvist) and his staff at Millennium Magazine work to prove her innocence. Still, Lisbeth’s cold bastard of a father Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov) vows to silence his daughter for good, and he threatens to expose the corruption he is fully a part of. All the while, Lisbeth’s panzer tank of a half brother Ronald Niedermann (Micke Spreitz) is on the run, laying waste to everything in his path.

Of the three films in this trilogy, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is easily the weakest. This one has more talk than action and, like the second film, it keeps Lisbeth and Mikael apart from each other more than we would like. But if you get past the problematic things about this third movie, there’s still a lot to appreciate. We have traveled along with these characters for two movies now, so it should be clear as to how emotionally invested we are in their collective fates. While society may view them from a distance, we see them for the individuals they are.

At the center of attention is Lisbeth Salander, far and away one of the strongest female heroines in literary history. We see Lisbeth beaten to a pulp, left for dead, and we watch as she endures a slow and painful recovery and seeks a long overdue justice for all the wrongs inflicted on her throughout her lifetime. With this third movie, we see fully why she is such a damaged human being and how she was rendered a victim through false imprisonment and abuse which forever wrecked the trust she could allow herself to put in others. We started this trilogy off by looking at her from a distance, thinking we knew what kind of person she was at first sight. By the end, we saw her as a very complex human being who will no longer be manipulated against her will. Lisbeth no longer cares if you like her. She just wants you to know that if you mess with her, the payback will be vicious as she demolishes you without any remorse.

Watching Noomi Rapace in her last go around as Lisbeth is a never ending thrill. Once she heads into the courtroom, all decked out in full punk regalia with a mohawk to boot, we cheer her on as she spits in the face of a world which has tossed her out like garbage. Those intense glares she shoots off at the prosecutors across the room penetrate right through the silver screen and pin us to our theater seats (which were hopefully comfortable to sit in). Throughout this trilogy, Rapace has walked a fine line with Lisbeth in making her both brilliant and being just one step away from becoming a full-on sociopath. Whatever you make of Lisbeth, Rapace makes us care deeply about this deeply wounded character, and we revel in her persistent abilities to outthink those who wronged her. Seeing those who deluded themselves into thinking they had her under their complete control get their just desserts is immensely satisfying.

But as great as Rapace is here, we shouldn’t forget to mention Michael Nyqvist and his understated work as the relentless reporter Mikael Blomkvist. Instead of making Mikael out to be this heroic figure searching for truth and justice for Lisbeth without fear of reprisal, Nyqvist makes him completely human with all the flaws we like to think we don’t have. Not once in these films do you ever really catch Nyqvist acting this role as much as he inhabits it. Michael gets the audience to be fully invested in this character as Mikael struggles for an end to Lisbeth’s unfair character assassination while risking his own livelihood as well as those who work for him. We root for him on his quest, but we also feel his pain and confusion when these escalating threats threaten to tear his magazine apart.

“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” also features other strong performances from its supporting cast. Annika Hallin is great as Mikael’s sister Annika who agrees to represent Lisbeth at her trial. This is another strong female character who holds her own with her anti social client and a group of corrupt men who are about to be justifiably obliterated during her very direct cross examination.  Anders Ahlbom exudes the Bjurman-like slime of his character Dr. Peter Teleborian, the man who changed the course of Lisbeth’s life and unforgivably so. Lena Endre also returns as Millennium Magazine editor Erika Berger who acts as the conscience Mikael needs to hear from time to time. Her face a mask of devotion and fear, Endre gives life to another strong female character in a movie full of them.

But yeah, overall this does feel like a weak ending to this film trilogy which was thrust into American movie theaters all in the space of a year. It’s not an utterly frustrating conclusion the way “The Matrix Revolutions” was (I’m still trying to get over that one), but it feels like “The Hornet’s Nest” could have been stronger even if it meant taking liberties with Stieg Larsson’s novels. It also would have been great to have Rapace and Nyqvist share more time onscreen together as their chemistry and tension were among the main reasons “Dragon Tattoo” was so damn good. Plus, the character of Ronald Niedermann is left to wander around the movie without much of a reason to be there, and his need to eliminate his half-sister feels somewhat unmotivated.

Still, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is a very engrossing experience which is anything but boring, and there’s no way fans of this trilogy can pass this one up. The fully developed characters give this film its dramatic power, and we are with them all the way to the end in the hopes of finding some fairness in a world crueler to some more than others.

* * * out of * * * *

 

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‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’ Reminds Us Not to Mess with Lisbeth Salander

The Girl Who Played With Fire poster

Studios are always trying to get sequels out quickly, and they hate keeping the audiences in limbo. As for myself, I have developed a lot of patience throughout the years to where if a filmmaker says it’s going to take time to get things right on a sequel, then I should be able to handle the wait. I find this is a much better prospect than having a sequel, or any other movie, rushed into production without a finished script.

The Girl Who Played with Fire” came to America just mere months after its brilliant predecessor, “The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo,” did. For once, we didn’t have to wait an infinite amount of time for a sequel. Of course, this may have to do with the fact parts 2 and 3 were already filmed and completed by the time the first movie even made it to the United States. Noomi Rapace returns as Stieg Larsson’s female antihero and brilliant computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander. From the moment she walks onto the screen to when the credits roll, Rapace owns this movie without question. Also returning is Michael Nyqvist as Millennium Magazine investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist, and it’s great to see him back as well.

“The Girl Who Played with Fire” takes place one year after the events of “Dragon Tattoo” with Lisbeth in the Caribbean reviewing her investments and about to return to Sweden after her time abroad. Meanwhile, Mikael is still working at Millennium where a new reporter is on the verge of exposing prostitution and human trafficking, and he has tried to get back in touch with Lisbeth with little to no success. Things then go downhill quickly when Lisbeth is framed for three murders and quickly becomes the subject of a massive manhunt, but Mikael however is convinced of her innocence and stops at nothing to prove it before the police get their hands on her.

Having witnessed the events of “Dragon Tattoo,” we now have a better understanding of Lisbeth and the dark places she is coming from. But throughout “Fire,” we get to dig even deeper into her history along with Mikael as he uncovers more secrets involving her deeply troubled childhood which was filled with endless abuse. It is amazing she didn’t turn into a full-blown sociopath as a result of experiences no one should never have to endure as a child. Any kindness she gives to others is often rebuked as those who know her don’t even try to hide the fact of how she can give off an endlessly cold vibe. As a result, she is a little too late to make amends to them.

Rapace does amazing work in bringing to life all the different dimensions of Lisbeth, and she makes us sympathize and root for her in the face of increasing adversity. She never makes the character easily likable, and heroines rarely get more punk or tougher than Lisbeth does these days. Rapace takes the time to make clear how tough of a front Lisbeth puts up to survive in this world, and yet the actress still allows Lisbeth to exhibit a vulnerability which she can only hide from others for so long.  When giving her apartment keys to a friend so she can live there for a year rent free (the dream of any Los Angeles musician who has broken up with their girlfriend), it becomes more about business than friendship. But the moments she shares with her former guardian who has survived his stroke count for a lot as he is one of the very few people she can easily trust, and who knows what kind of person she is and what she has gone through. Rapace is nothing short of a dynamo throughout the movie’s two-hour running time, and she never lets up.

While the late Michael Nyqvist gets overshadowed by his female co-star, I certainly don’t want to leave him out in the cold. As Mikael Blomkvist, Nyqvist never tries to make his character a typical action hero as he does the opposite and makes this reporter a noble man who remains uncorrupted by powerful people and leads a seemingly ordinary life while continually pursuing a well-hidden truth which can only evade the public eye for so long. The beauty of what Nyqvist does is that you never really catch him acting. He is more about inhabiting his role, so you believe him as this character without him having to emote all over the place.

Other key performances in “Fire” come from Peter Andersson as Bjurman, the sadistic lawyer who abused Salander until she brilliantly turned the tables on him. Andersson still oozes slime as well as fear of the person he thought he had control over (as if). You also have Yasmine Garbi as Mimmi Wu, Lisbeth’s close friend and sometimes girlfriend who does not get taken hostage so easily, and Paolo Roberto co-stars as himself and even gets to kick some ass in a scene or two.

The villains in this sequel are deliciously evil, and your hatred for them is immediate upon their slimy arrival. Georgi Staykov plays one of the key antagonists (I’ll leave his character’s identity for you to discover), and he gives us one of the most callous characters I have seen in a film who has nothing but contempt for everyone, especially his family and children. His affection for human lives other than his own appears to be nonexistent, and he doesn’t even try to hide this.

Another villain, and a seemingly impenetrable one, is Ronald Niedermann (played by Micke Spreitz), a man as big as a panzer tank. This gigantic monolith of a human being has a medical condition known as analgesia, which means he is unable to feel pain, and this makes him a more frightening opponent. Even a stun gun to the groin cannot easily subdue this giant who is loyal to the most evil of people.

Taking over directorial duties from Niels Arden Oplev on this sequel is Daniel Alfredson, brother of “Let The Right One In” director Tomas Alfredson. Daniel does a good job of keeping the tension high between the characters, some who are willing to lay down their own lives in order to make things right. The story is at times a little hard to follow (a second viewing will probably make things clearer), but the pace of the movie never lags. Daniel even captures some great moments which had me jumping out of my seat.

“The Girl Who Played with Fire” is pretty much on a par with “Dragon Tattoo,” but if I had to choose, the first one is still the best. I haven’t read any of Stieg Larsson’s books, but I have been told these movies are quite faithful to the source material. Please don’t let whatever prejudice you have over reading subtitles turn you off from seeing this. Besides, they are much more preferable to the hopelessly bad English dubbing which studios often rely on and which makes even the best movies look ridiculously stupid.

And remember, don’t ever mess with Lisbeth Salander!

* * * ½ out of * * * *

 

‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ Leaves You Hanging From Dizzying Heights

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol poster

Writer’s note: This review was written back in 2011.

The “Mission: Impossible” movie franchise keeps getting better and better which each successive sequel, something few other franchises can ever lay claim to. The first one directed by Brian De Palma had a confusing storyline but spectacular action set pieces. The second one had a plot which was easier to follow and the signature ballet action sequences we’ve come to love and expect from John Woo. Part three gave us the directorial debut of J.J. Abrams, had a stronger plot, a very effective villain in Phillip Seymour Hoffman and ended up remembering what made the original television series work so well. Each movie in this series has its own unique identity which allowed this franchise to have a longevity we didn’t expect it to have. Of course, with Tom Cruise’s antics upstaging “Mission: Impossible III,” it started to seem his time as Ethan Hunt had run its course.

But Cruise is back for more, and “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” turns out to be the best of one yet as it features some of the most ingenious action scenes I’ve seen in a movie for quite some time. It also has the added benefit of having been filmed in part with IMAX cameras which gives certain scenes a highly realistic look and feel to where you are right in the center of the action. Just when I thought this franchise had ran out of steam, Cruise and director Brad Bird (making his live action debut) thrill us in a highly unexpected way.

It appears Hunt’s retirement from the IMF after “Mission: Impossible III” didn’t last long, and we find him at this movie’s beginning in a Moscow prison throwing a rock at the wall like he’s Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape.” But he is soon sprung from his cell with the help of Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton), and we find out he was imprisoned for a mission gone wrong, and he has since become estranged from his wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) for mysterious reasons. Just like Jack Bauer in “24,” Hunt can’t stay away from what he does best when danger rears its ugly head.

After their great escape, Hunt and Dunn infiltrate the Kremlin in an effort to locate files of a nemesis with the code name of Cobalt. This mission, however, goes horribly wrong when the Kremlin is blown to smithereens, and the entire IMF is disavowed as a result. Hunt and his team are forced to take blame for the attack, but they are allowed to escape in order to locate Cobalt and stop a nuclear war. This time, Hunt and company have no support to rely on as they forced to work on their own.

As with the previous entry, Cruise lets the other actors shine as he has realized Hunt doesn’t need to do everything himself. Seeing Benji get upgraded from techno nerd to field agent is great fun, and Pegg is a real treat to watch here as he becomes much more than just comic relief. Paula Patton embodies her agent character of Jane Carter convincingly and gets to kick some serious ass in various scenes, one of which has her taking on a female assassin in something more than just your average catfight.

The best addition, however, to this “Mission: Impossible” movie is Jeremy Renner who plays William Brandt, a chief analyst for the IMF. Renner, whose career has been on a major upswing thanks to his performances in “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town,” is a great addition to this franchise, and he even gets a big action set piece as William proves to know far more than he lets on. His secrets threaten to be devastating if revealed, and Renner does excellent work in showing the turmoil Brandt endures as he is faced with a whole other kind of impossible mission.

The main antagonist this time out is Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist from the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) who is bent on starting a nuclear war so he can bring about the next evolution of the human race. Nyqvist brings a strong villainy to this role which makes you sneer at his presence whenever he’s onscreen. However, he’s upstaged by Léa Seydoux who portrays French assassin Sabine Moreau. Her cold glare penetrates your inner defenses with little difficulty, and you have to put on your best poker face in her presence to stay alive (and that may not even be enough).

But the real star of “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is director Brad Bird himself. You’d think stepping outside the world of animation where he made “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and “The Iron Giant” would leave him at a spectacular disadvantage as what you can get away with in that realm of filmmaking does not necessarily translate as well to live action. But it’s clear Bird allows nothing to stand in his way in terms of what can be accomplished, and he comes up with one amazing action sequence after another.

The one sequence which needs to be acknowledged above others is when Cruise scales the outside of the Burj Khalifa tower, the tallest building in the world. The IMAX cameras give this moment a reality like no other, and that feeling of intense vertigo is hard to ignore. Seriously, I felt like I was outside of that building with Cruise as he climbed up it with nothing but suction gloves. If there is a more intense action sequence with a character hanging on for dear life from one of the world’s tallest buildings, it certainly didn’t come to mind while I watched this movie. I had trouble getting to sleep afterwards because that crazy stunt was still on my mind and would not let me be.

There’s about a half hour or so of footage shot in IMAX, and Bird makes use of this format to great effect. Aside from Cruise scaling the world’s tallest building, there’s a scene of the Kremlin exploding which literally takes your breath away. While many still complain of IMAX feeling like a rip off with its high ticket prices, it’s worth the extra money in a way 3D could only dream of being at this point.

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is a big surprise as this franchise looked like it had already hit its peak to where another sequel seemed needless. But Cruise and company successfully revive it by giving us characters to care about and root for, and they outdo themselves with stunts even more amazing than what we saw previously. Regardless of what you may think of Cruise as a person these days (many of my friends can’t stand him), he still puts on a good show even as he grows visibly older. Just when you thought he was out, he pulls himself back in!

* * * ½ out of * * * *

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)

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You look at her from a distance, and all you see is just another punk chick who’s nothing but trouble; born under a bad sign. You’d figure she’s pierced her body in lord only knows how many different places, and the mascara applied to her eyes might make you see her as an intimidating threat. Not once does she try to adjust her antisocial behavior or clothing attire in the workplace, and this is a sign of how unwilling she is to compromise her learned set of values.

But once you get to know her, you will find Lisbeth Salander is not your average punk rock girl. In fact, she’s a brilliant hacker and researcher who knows more about yourself than you could possibly realize. Bo Diddley was right when he said you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover. I mean you could, but she would just kick your ass because a rough upbringing has more than prepared her for the harsh reality of life.

Lisbeth Salander is the heroine of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a brilliant mystery/thriller based on the best-selling novel by the late Stieg Larsson. Many have said Noomi Rapace gives a star making performance as Lisbeth, and nothing could be more true. She finds the heart of this incredibly intelligent yet mysterious character whose past is hinted at but never explained until the end, but we come to get enough of a glimpse which helps us understand where she is coming from. Lisbeth sets the bar high in terms of compelling characters (and not just females) you can find in movies from any country.

Right from the start, this film absorbs us in its compelling mystery involving the case of a missing girl which has remained unsolved for 40 years. Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), the publisher of Millennium Magazine, is coming off of a trial where he was wrongfully disgraced, and soon after he is hired by rich man Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) who wants him to look into the disappearance of his great-niece Harriet who was last seen years ago when she was only 16. Henrik believes Harriet was murdered by someone in his family, and it’s a very dysfunctional family filled with those who will fight one other for the whole inheritance without a single thought for anyone else.

Please believe me when I say “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” puts so many American movies of this genre to utter shame. Seriously, many of the mystery thrillers I have seen in the past few years are full of plot holes Michael Bay could lead both Autobots and Decepticons through no matter how enormous they are. Instead of being enthralled, we come out of them feeling like they are average at best, but they do allow us to feel smarter than the filmmakers since we spotted all their foolish mistakes.

Compared to all those wannabes, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has a very well-constructed plot to where if it is at all flawed, we certainly don’t realize it because we are too caught up with what’s unfolding onscreen. But where this movie truly succeeds is as a character piece in how deeply it involves us in the lives of two very different people. The two main characters are well developed and are very complex, something I always look forward to seeing. Lisbeth is a wounded person, damaged by life, and the trust she puts in others is exceedingly rare. These two end up coming together as Lisbeth has been hacking into Mikael’s computer as part of his case, and she ends up giving him some clues which have eluded him. While she is hesitant to get involved with Mikael professionally or emotionally, he points out how she contacted him in a way that is easy to track.

Lisbeth and Mikael are indeed an odd couple, and yet perfectly matched to work on the coldest of cases. They are also coming together at a time where they are in a very isolated state, having been largely misunderstood by just about everyone around them. While many view them negatively, they come to see one another as who they really are. The more they work together, the more they gain each other’s trust. In the large scheme of things, these are two people who do not let others define them.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was directed by Niels Arden Oplev, a three-time award-winning director from Denmark. He deserves a lot of credit for keeping us deeply involved in a movie that could have easily overstayed its welcome. Not once did I find myself getting bored or restless while watching it. Oplev balances out the story and the acting to where they are on equal footing and never upstaged by style. Never does he indulge in quirky camera angles or other visual elements which would have taken away from this movie. Some directors just love to show off instead of just trusting what is there, and Oplev has clearly laid his complete trust in the story and the actors cast.

Noomi Rapace brings a powerful life force to Lisbeth Salander, a character destined to become as iconic as Clarice Starling from “The Silence of the Lambs.” Beneath her hard exterior is a person whose trust in others is practically non-existent for reasons which eventually become clear. Rapace more than succeeds in making Lisbeth tough as well as sympathetic. Her performance could easily have been a caricature, but she proves to be far too good of an actress to allow this to happen.

Michael Nyqvist does excellent work as Mikael Blomkvist, showing his strong resolve and utter frustration without ever going overboard in his performance. When he is first shown to the audience, it is as a man who has just been found guilty. We don’t know why at first, so we can only assume he had it coming or perhaps he was framed. We see him walking down the street when his picture comes up on television, pretty much defining him in the eyes of those who do not know him personally. But Nyqvist invests his character with a strong moral code which he never surrenders even when it seems smart for him to do so. We sympathize with Mikael as it always seems the wealthiest of people are more than willing to smash down the individual, especially when said individual is correct in what he or she discovers about them. The truth always seems to come at a heavy price.

Peter Andersson doesn’t even try to hide the hideous slime that consumes his utterly immoral character of Bjurman, a sexually abusive bastard who takes advantage of Lisbeth in the worst way possible. Even worse, he is her new legal guardian who takes charge of her trust fund after her original guardian suffers a stroke. Not to worry though, the pain Bjurman inflicts on Lisbeth comes back at him in a most vicious way, showing us once again what you see on the surface does not even begin to tell you the whole story.

Two sequels based on Stieg Larsson’s follow up novels have already been made, and I eagerly await the opportunity to see them on the big screen. They will have a tough act to follow after “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but with Rapace and Nyqvist reprising their roles, they will continue one of the more interesting and unusual partnerships you can hope to find in cinematic history.

It will be interesting to see who will be the next idiotic human being who foolishly thinks they have complete control over Lisbeth. Even more interesting will be in what way Lisbeth lets said person know just how wrong they are. Pray for whoever it is.

* * * * out of * * * *