Friday, November 5, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: Not Much Sting

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2010) • View trailer for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Three stars (out of five). Rating: R, for violence, profanity and smarmy content
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.5.10

Continuity of vision may not be essential when adapting a rigorously interlaced series of books to the big screen … but it’s certainly desirable.

The guiding hands of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh obviously contributed to the richly textured success of all three Lord of the Rings films. And who but Francis Ford Coppola could have interwoven the two timelines of Godfather Part II so seamlessly into its predecessor?
Although accused of murder and facing the possibility of renewed
imprisonment in a psychiatric ward, Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) refuses
to compromise the image that has served her so well ... and struts
into the courtroom in full punk regalia.

Vexingly, the Swedish film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Girl Who books, although made almost concurrently, are scripted by three different writers and directed by two different individuals. Daniel Alfredson, who helmed the middle installment, has returned for the final chapter in the trilogy.

I don’t understand this revolving-door approach; surely a savvy producer should have recognized the value of artistic continuity. After all, those same guiding hands were smart enough to hang onto Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist – both still in top form, as the emotionally damaged Lisbeth Salander and her hard-charging journalistic champion, Mikael Blomkvist – so why not take similar care behind the scenes?

The unhappy result of such scattershot filmmaking is the realization, now that the trilogy has concluded with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, that Alfredson simply isn’t right for this material. His handling of this film is even less viscerally involving than the previous entry, and Ulf Ryberg’s screenplay is a discouraging disappointment: an overly talky thriller that might have been fine with a different set of characters, but not these characters, darn it!

In fairness, Larsson’s third novel is partly to blame; the author obviously suffered from a (not unreasonable) desire to wrap up his saga with exhaustive detail. But here, again, we perceive the value of more talented hands: Director Niels Arden Oplev and screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg brilliantly condensed Larsson’s dense prose while making the first film, wisely concentrating on developing suspense and the character interplay between Lisbeth and Mikael, while downplaying Larsson’s tendency to over-write. (Let’s face it: The second hundred pages or so of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are a truly tedious slog.)

Ryberg, in great contrast, tries to retain a little bit of everything from Larsson’s third book … and does so badly. He obviously loves the courtroom confrontation that dominates the third act, and yes; it’s a marvelous legal battle of wits over the fate of a heroine we’ve come to adore (Lisbeth) and a thoroughly reprehensible villain – Dr. Peter Teleborian, played to smarmy perfection by Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl – whose brief appearance in Part 2 has built to the heights of Shakespearean villainy in this final installment.

The story, then, in brief: Following the ghastly events that concluded the second film, a badly injured Lisbeth, literally at death’s door, has been found in a nick of time by Mikael. Shipped off to the hospital and clinging for life, Lisbeth initially doesn’t realize that her efforts were in vain: Her much-despised father (Georgi Staykov, as Zalachenko) also remains alive and under care in the same hospital, and her mute, man-monster of a half-brother (Micke Spreitz, as Ronald Niedermann) is free as a bird.

Mikael now is in a righteous fury over his desire to expose the shadowy, unseen members of “The Section,” the rogue government faction behind everything that has happened to Lisbeth. He gathers the staff of his Millennium magazine and announces that their next issue will haul these high-level thugs into the unforgiving light of day. (Just in passing, anybody with even the slightest involvement with publishing must find it rather amusing that Millennium’s entire staff seems to consist of four people.)

The aforementioned members of The Section, quite naturally, have no desire to see Mikael succeed; they also would prefer that Lisbeth didn’t survive to share whatever knowledge she might possess. And so several clocks begin to tick.

Sadly, as the story progresses, we become less involved with our various protagonists’ fates, and more irritated by blatant contrivance and sloppy scripting.

Both Mikael and his sister, Annika (played by Annika Halin), independently lose the only two copies of a document essential to Lisbeth’s salvation. That’s just dumb. Mikael’s publishing partner, Erika (Lena Endre), wisely shares the threatening notes she receives as their issue nears its publication date; that’s smart … but then Mikael ignores these threats and refuses to involve the police!

That’s throw-up-your-hands stupid.

Then, too, the missing little details are irritating. What the heck happened to Erika’s husband? Why doesn’t Mikael worry about Annika – the lawyer who now represents Lisbeth – and her family, left vulnerable all this time? Why do we never hear anything about the bodies Niedermann leaves behind, as he invades one suburban home after another, while deciding what to do next?

And the biggie: Although it has been established, in the previous two films, that various members of The Section have been involved with everything from sexual slavery to neo-Nazi thuggery, there’s absolutely no mention of such activities in this film. It would appear, from the events depicted here, that these several dozen villains are merely cranky old geezers who despise young women in dark punk garb … and that’s an atrocious over-simplification of the densely layered villainy Larsson developed over the course of his three novels.

Perhaps most disappointing, though, is the way that Lisbeth has become such a passive participant in these events. Granted, she must fight to recover from near-mortal injuries, and the quiet bond developed with her doctor (Askel Morisse) is a nice dynamic early on. Later, though, watching Lisbeth merely sit quietly, as Annika leads the courtroom charge, is rather a letdown coming from the woman who found such a novel way to handle the guardian who raped her in the first film.

Rapace is no less riveting; she, at least, knows how to build on what has come before. Knowing Lisbeth’s fondness for revenge, and watching the smoldering fire in Rapace’s eyes, the steely intensity of her gaze, even as she sits placidly in the courtroom … we know somebody’s in for a world of hurt.

And we can’t wait for Alfredson to get to that part, darn it!

Not that it’s enough, when we finally hit the climax. This series has gone out with the proverbial whimper, and Lisbeth Salander never would have condoned that.

Related: The Girl Who Played With Fire

1 comment:

  1. I loved the 3 books, but admit that I skipped over a LOT of stuff about the history of law enforcement and police intrigue in Sweden. Somehow I kept reading, and am glad I did, but agree that whole chunks of all three books were truly a tedious slog. I've only seen the first movie, but just got the second from Netflix. It will be a long time before I get to Hornet's Nest, but can truly believe in going out with a whimper. Lisbeth should never have grown up! :)

    So glad to see that you've joined the blogging crowd!