Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Salander’s Parting Shot: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

It is unlikely this film will carry the AARP seal of approval. Few movies have had as many murderous geriatrics as the concluding installment of the Lisbeth Salander Millennium trilogy. Indeed, “never trust anyone over fifty-five” could be the motto of Daniel Alfredson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (trailer here), which opens quite widely for a foreign film this Friday.

As the film opens, Salander is lucky to be alive. Shot in the head during a confrontation with Alexander Zalachenko, her abusive Soviet defector father, and her hulking half-brother, Salander owes her life to crusading leftist journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Since the incident threatens to expose the shadowy extra-governmental cabal protecting Zalachenko, a battery of wheezing geezer assassins spring into action to silence Salander. However, their best hope comes down to Dr. Teloborian, the pedophile psychiatrist who regularly abused Salander while she was institutionalized under his supervision.

Unfortunately, Hornet loses sight of its strongest asset, the dragon-tattooed fire-playing Salander herself. In previous films, she is always a paragon of subversive empowerment. Even in the first film with its infamous rape scene, Salander clearly refuses to play the victim. Unfortunately, throughout most of Hornet she is merely confined to hospital beds and prison cells, while Blomkvist rakes the muck on the insidious “Section.” As something of a consolation, Blomkvist’s sister, attorney Annika Giannini, finally has comes to the fore representing Salander in the pivotal heated competency hearing, after two films of merely shaking her head indulgently at her rabble-rousing brother.

A hard-core leftist, author Stieg Larsson’s politics were smeared all over the Millennium trilogy (so named for the advocacy journal Blomkvist edits). Arguably though, this gave a bit of a kick to the opening Dragon Tattoo, which delved into Sweden’s less than edifying history of collaboration with the German National Socialists. In the middle film Fire, the details of the meta-conspiracy were still so murky they never became a distraction. However, the more we learn about the “Section” in Hornet, the sillier it sounds.

Though they may have secretly tilted towards the west, it seems rather hard to believe neutral Sweden would have gone to such lengths to protect a Soviet defector (especially one like Zalachenko, who we are led to believe was a highly dubious source of intel), for over a decade after the end of the Cold War. In fact, Larsson’s trust in a large powerful state apparatus largely undermines the inherent tension of Hornet’s quasi-governmental cabal. All Blomkvist has to do is ferret out the conspirators and the tweedy Federal Security bureaucrats will duly round them up. It’s really that simple.

Of the three Millennium films, Hornet is also the least self-contained. Those new to the series should be able to follow the action, but will probably be confused by large cast of characters and their relationships to Salander. However, for fans of the series, it ties up all the loose ends and offers some satisfying retribution for all the wrongs done to her.

Though Hornet is the weakest of the trilogy, it has been entertaining to see all three films released in relatively short succession. They have deservedly made Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist international stars for their work as Salander and Blomkvist, respectively. While Daniel Craig is a credible choice to replace Nyqvist in the American remake, Rooney Mara seems a highly suspect stand-in for Rapace, especially considering how her performance has taken on nearly iconic dimensions. Frankly, she should have had more to do in the concluding Hornet. While still slickly watchable, it is not likely to appreciably expand the Salander fan base when it opens this Friday in New York at the Beekman, Lincoln Plaza, and Sunshine Cinemas.