I have not read any of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, but considering the fervent fanbase it has fostered worldwide I have to assume the series makes for better books than it does movies. That isn’t to say the films are bad – just unspectacular. After all the ravings I had heard about the books, I was frankly surprised to discover that their stories are fairly ordinary potboilers, at least when presented on film. At their best, the films mirror fun Hollywood mystery-thrillers, at their worst, lame American TV procedurals. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest unfortunately leans too far toward the lame TV procedural side of the spectrum (it was not surprising to learn that an extended version of the trilogy aired as a six part TV mini-series in Sweden).
I have heard that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the best of the books. It is the best of the films too, a typical but very top-notch whodunit that manages to rouse a feeling of greater novelty with its fetishistic violence against women theme. I thought the film floundered its central mystery with an overcooked series of cheesy and convoluted revelations at the end (fucking Nazis?), but saved itself with a great resolution for our two heroes, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). And in the end that is what mattered most. Lisbeth and Blomkvist are fantastic characters, and are made believably nuanced by Rapace and Nyqvist. The Girl Who Played With Fire is more of the same fun. Again, the further we get into the central mystery, the cheesier things get, but the film builds up to a great climax, and for popcorn entertainment (which is what these films amount to) it worked for me.
Hornet’s Nest opens with the revelation that Lisbeth’s father, Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov) has survived the ending of Played With Fire. Both he and a severely injured Lisbeth are whisked away to a hospital as a media storm erupts. When the news hits the clandestine group of powerful old men who have been protecting Zalachenko (and who sent Lisbeth to a sanitarium as a child), they are not happy. This incident needs to be swept back under the rug, and fast. A series of machinations are then put in motion to make sure that Lisbeth is not only successfully convicted for the attempted murder of Zalachenko, but that she is recommitted to the care of the exceptionally evilly named, Dr. Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom), where she will disappear forever into the fog of a psychiatric ward. Of course, our ace fringe reporter, Blomkvist, won’t stand for that. He works every angle and contact he has to insure that the guilty parties are exposed, and that Lisbeth goes free, including getting his sister (Annika Hallin) to represent Lisbeth in court.
Well, I’ll just say it – Hornet’s Nest really takes a dump on the Millennium Trilogy. It’s not a rage-inducing fuck off like Matrix Revolutions, but it is riddled with poor story choices that suck the life out of what should be the big finale. The most obvious mistake is benching the trilogy’s best character, Lisbeth, with a dull courtroom drama storyline, forcing the previously aggressive and assertive character into an entirely passive position. It is a waste of both Lisbeth and Rapace, who is given little to do as an actress but brood.
The less obvious but more deeply problematic mistake is changing up the series formula. I know some people think the books are brilliant, and maybe they are, but from purely a story perspective they are potboiler mystery-thrillers. While you always want your mystery to have a good payoff, fundamentally it is more important that unraveling the mystery is engaging, as that is the bulk of your story. As David Fincher proved with The Game, if your movie is awesome enough, people will forgive a preposterous payoff. Like I said before, I thought the payoff for Dragon Tattoo was dumb, but I didn’t really care because I enjoyed the ride. But unlike the first two films, Hornet’s Nest isn’t actually a mystery. It acts a like it is, pacing our heroes through familiar beats of putting pieces together, but there is no puzzle this time. We know who all our bad guys are, what they are up to, and why they are up to it by the end of Act I. The cards are on the table the whole time. So all tension and suspense has to come from wondering how it will all pan out. But we know this the entire time too.
If you think a franchise that ended its first film with Lisbeth triumphantly becoming a millionaire and moving to the tropics is going to end the entire trilogy with her being committed to a mental ward for the rest of her life, I have to assume you’re also the kind of person who doesn’t read film reviews on a regular basis. So, presumably none of you actually reading this will get upset with my presumption that you’ll never have a single doubt while watching Hornet’s Nest that Lisbeth will prevail in the end. I’m not saying this as a criticism of the film. It’s a fucking movie, of course the hero will win in the end (especially when we’ve seen both our heroes win twice before already).
In any Hollywoodized courtroom drama the suspense needs to come not from wondering if our hero will manage to overcome the seemingly insurmountable evidence against them, but how they’ll do it. Hornet’s Nest traded in its whodunit format, for a howwilltheydoit format. I really want to complain about how ridiculously implausible and flimsy the case against Lisbeth is, but I will leave my complaint at just that, because this isn’t the real problem with Lisbeth’s trial. The problem is that we already know exactly how Lisbeth will win her case for the entire length of the movie. Now, to clarify, this isn’t a case of me being such a movie nerd that I was able to dissect the film and make a bold prediction of its outcome. The movie tells us how Lisbeth will win: the DVD of her being raped by Dr. Bjurman, which Blomkvist gives it to his sister when he recruits her to represent Lisbeth at the beginning of the damn movie. When the judges finally watch the DVD – in a scene reminiscent of a youtube 2 Girls 1 Cup reaction meme – what should feel like a victorious moment instead feels like a bit of catch-up. It is like Joe Pesci having his tire-marks epiphany in the first 20 minutes of My Cousin Vinny, but never bringing it up until the very end.
With no unfolding mystery to keep us at the edge of our seats, no cinematic slight of hand to distract us, so to speak, the shortcomings of the series are left sorely exposed. I love films like The Fugitive that feature a colorful team of crime solvers assisting our lead detective (Tommy Lee Jones’ gang), but the Millennium crew has always been uncolorful and underdeveloped. Hornets’ Nest tries to flesh out the lesser two members, but it doesn’t quite stick, especially an extremely forced bit of resentment directed at Blomkvist given to Christer Malm (Jacob Ericksson), that goes absolutely no where.
Despite my negative tone, none of this is poorly executed – the dialogue and acting are all solid – it is just too emotionally inconsequential for a feature film. It’s simply not enough, and it leaves Hornet’s Nest feeling like a well-cast TV procedural. After Erika Berger (Lena Endre) starts receiving threatening emails from the evil government cabal, friction appears in the Millennium office. The other members want to halt production on their latest issue, but Blomkvist wants to keep pressing forward to uncover and expose the truth. The fact that this is the entire crux of Blomkvist’s conflict is woefully underwhelming compared to the first two films. Not only do the Millennium office tensions feel unnatural (maybe this worked better when it had more time to breathe in the book), they aren’t appropriately dramatic either. The other editors getting upset with Blomkvist for wanting to finish the magazine doesn’t count for anything, because we want him to finish it too – he’s doing it to help Lisbeth, our favorite character! If the film wanted real tension, it needed to alienate Blomkvist from us too. And aside from a lone scene where Blomkvist fights off an assassination attempt, there also isn’t any sense of danger in these proceedings. A scene where we cut to our evil cabal discussing their threatening emails to Berger takes care of that for us, undermining any lingering sense of mystery in the film. Edge of Darkness had a similar problem – if the hero of your movie is trying to uncover a conspiracy, it helps keep the mystery going if you aren’t constantly cutting to the villains discussing said conspiracy.
The film does have its qualities too, I should say. The strength of the trilogy is its characters. I was happy to see Lisbeth’s hermit hacker friend, Plague (Tomas Köhler), given a moment to shine in this film and step away from his computer desk. I also really liked Lisbeth’s helpful and sympathetic doctor, Jonasson (Askel Morisse). And Erika Berger’s relationship with Blomkvist, which had always been a nice backburner piece of character interest in the previous films, finally blossoms here in some nice ways. The uneasy and complex triangle between Blomkvist, Lisbeth, and Berger is one of the more unique aspects of the second two films. Though, unfortunately, as Hornet’s Nest proves, getting more camera time with Blomkvist/Berger is significantly less interesting than getting camera time with Blomkvist/Lisbeth.
If you’ve seen the first two films, I’m sure you will want to see how things get wrapped up. I won’t try and steer you away, even though I thought the film was a turd. Plus the climax of the film is actually quite fun (Lisbeth finally getting her groove back), and the resolution between Blomkvist and Lisbeth is the sort of compellingly European character work I wish the film had significantly more of. It is a quiet and unusual moment, where the characters’ silence tells us as much as a whole scene of dialogue could. This single scene is a fitting ending to the trilogy. This movie was not.
6.5 out of 10