(On DVD, August 2010) This third and (presumably) last entry in the Millennium trilogy is best appreciated by fans of the lead characters: Picking up moments after the events of the second film, the narrative depends almost entirely on character quirks, plot follow-ups and existing tensions established during the second movie. It’s not quite as slow to begin this time around, but it’s just as “carefully paced” (which quickly becomes “long and repetitive” if you’re not a fan) as the two previous films in the series, something which, in turn, can be traced back to Stieg Larsson’s procedural novels serving as source material. For fans of the series, though, this marks an effective entry in the series as prickly protagonist Lisbeth Salander goes up against powerful renegade groups within the Swedish state’s security establishment while undergoing a trial that will determine her independence. No fear, though: Sweet justice is measured onto those who deserve it, and Mikael Blomkvist even gets a chance to fight back in an action scene of his own. The film itself in directed unspectacularly, which isn’t as disappointing as you may think given how it allows the actors, particularly Noomi Rapace as Salander and Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist, to underplay their roles in typical Scandinavian fashion. There’s even an interesting moral point made at the end, as a competent democratic government takes care of its renegade elements without any typical American-style cynicism or overblown violence. For a series cut down abruptly by the author’s untimely death, this third volume ends on a satisfying note that allow viewers to let go and imagine Blomkvist and Salander’s next adventures without anxiety. Reflecting upon the entire trilogy, there’s no doubt that the first volume is quite a bit better, more unusual and more rewarding than the last two. Still, it’s not a bad series, and the sheer magnetic power of Rapace as Salander makes it a recommendation. Who knows what the Americans will do with their remake? DVD-wise, the R1-Quebec release regrettably has no extra features whatsoever.
(In theaters, July 2010) Fans of Stieg Larsson’s massively successful trilogy will be reassured to find that the second film adaption from his novels is almost as good as the first one. “Almost” because a bit of the originality of seeing two unusual characters fighting crime in modern Sweden has faded a bit. But what The Girl Who Played with Fire has over its prequel is character familiarity, and much of the pleasure of this second entry is in seeing past plot threads being weaved into a complex thriller. Millennium 2 is slightly more traditional in form than the first film (one character is framed for murder and must fight to find the true murderer, helped along by the other protagonist), but don’t presume that it’s all back to formula: The structure of the film is cleverly manipulated (even modified from the original novel) so that the two lead character only meet at the very end of The Girl Who Played with Fire, while the mid-film car chase and fight sequence are amusingly delegated to secondary characters. Screenwriters should study the choices made in bringing the novel to screen, because an amazing amount of careful streamlining took place to fit the novel’s procedural excess into barely more than two hours’ worth of film: It’s no accident if much of the novel’s first half is abstracted. Many of the pacing issues of the first film also carry over, although the lengthy coda of Millennium 1 is here truncated into an abrupt ending that leads viewers straight to the third film. But plot aside, this is still Noomi Rapace’s show as the longer-haired but no less mesmerizing Lisbeth Salander; Michael Nyqvist is reassuring as the boy-scout journalist Mikael Blomkvist, but it’s Salander who’s the compelling core of the story and its protagonist. It’s a solid film, maybe a bit too slow although surprisingly nimble compared to the original book. Fortunately, viewers won’t have to wait a long time before the third film comes out.
(In theatres, May 2010) Already a monster hit everywhere in the first world, Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy is slowly conquering the American market, the belated release of this first movie preparing the terrain for the release of the third volume in translation, and maybe even an Americanized version of the films. It’s no fair betting that the eventual remake will be a lot less distinctive than the Swedish original, which does quite a few things differently from what we’d expect. For one thing, it starts slowly. Really, really slowly: While the mystery is suggested early on, there isn’t much of an investigation for the first hour of the film, and its main characters are kept apart for a long while. The film later moves very leisurely, and takes forever to wrap up after the action climax of the story. But those who have read the original novel know that it’s even worse at pacing than the film. Fortunately, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo places so much emphasis on its characters that the plot doesn’t reign supreme: Instead, we can be fascinated by the odd pairing of a pudgy reporter (Mikael Blomkvist, appropriately underplayed by Michael Nyqvist) and a prickly hacker (Lisbeth Salander, incarnated definitively by Noomi Rapace) in unravelling a decades-old mystery by the slenderest of threads. The thematic underpinning of the story is all about violence against women (the original title translates at “Millennium: Part 1 – Men Who Hate Women”), and the film finely upholds the original’s progressive political outlook. The Swedish setting only adds to the interest of the picture, as we get to see the character dig through decades of local history and travel throughout Sweden. It all adds up to a crime thriller that works in unusual ways, taking advantage of strong characters to paper over a weak structure and inconsistent pacing. It all adds up to a fascinating thriller, and one that flows quite a bit better than its 158-minutes running time and slow pacing would suggest. Bring on the sequels!