Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, The (Sweden/Denmark/Germany, 2009)

October 27, 2010
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, The Poster

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third and final piece of the cinematic adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Millennium Trilogy, is an entertaining thriller. That said, it's the weakest of the films, falling a length or two behind The Girl Who Played with Fire, and considerably more than that with respect to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Admittedly, some of the problems are out of the filmmakers' control. By trying to remain reasonably faithful to the books, they are hamstrung by the weaknesses of Larssson's material, chief of which is that he died before he could satisfactorily wrap up the most compelling aspect of The Millennium Trilogy: the relationship between Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). After being effectively established in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this is shunted to the side in both sequels. The most we get in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is a brief scene that is pregnant with unacknowledged and unresolved romantic tension. It's more than a little frustrating. Fortunately, the movie resolves most of the plot threads left dangling at the end of The Girl Who Played with Fire. Unlike The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which can stand on its own, the other two films need to be seen as a set. Neither is complete without the other.

There is a structural problem with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Like The Girl Who Played with Fire, the narrative keeps Lisbeth and Mikael physically separated for pretty much the entire time. Their interaction is largely electronic and/or through intermediaries. However, while the focus of The Girl Who Played with Fire is mostly on Lisbeth, who is interesting enough to carry a movie on her own, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest gives Mikael a lion's share of the screen time. And, although Michael Nyqvist provides an excellent portrayal of the crusading magazine editor, the character is a generic component of the traditional thriller/mystery genre. Lisbeth, played to perfection by Noomi Rapace, is the real reason to watch these movies - a truly original individual with more facets that the finest-cut diamond. Unfortunately, she's given far too little exposure in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, being stuck in a hospital bed for most of the movie's first third, then behind bars for the second third. Only in the final 45 minutes is she accorded equal treatment to Mikael.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest picks up at the exact point where The Girl Who Played with Fire ended - with a critically injured Lisbeth, who survived a murderous encounter with her father and brother (Mikael Spreitz), being taken to the hospital. The police intend to charge her with attempted murder and a shadowy group of government operatives, out to protect secrets that have been buried for decades, intend to exert their influence and have her committed under the care of Dr. Peter Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl), who "treated" her after her first attempt to kill her father, at age 12. As Lisbeth recovers from her injuries, Mikael and his cohorts at Millennium Magazine prepare an expose revealing all the details pertaining to the conspiracy against Lisbeth. This puts Mikael and his co-editor and lover, Erika (Lena Endre), in the way of those trying to bring down Lisbeth. Soon Mikael is faced with an ugly ultimatum: cease investigating on Lisbeth's behalf or prepare to suffer the consequences.

Pacing is an issue. Director Daniel Alfredson, who also helmed the second movie (enforcing the sense that The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest are best viewed as a single, 4 1/2-hour production), does the best he can with an inherently non-cinematic structure. The first 50 minutes, which roughly correspond to the period in which Lisbeth is confined in the hospital, is slow going as new characters are introduced (some of these are individuals who had minor roles in the previous installments) and details of the conspiracy are unraveled. There's a lot of exposition and not a lot of action or character development. Things become more interesting once Lisbeth gains access to a computer but, even then, the focus is primarily on Mikael's attempts to unmask the people behind the conspiracy (he is aided in this goal by a government-appointed task force). Unsurprisingly, the most compelling segment of the film occurs when Lisbeth is on trial. There are enough courtroom theatrics to satisfy anyone who enjoys that sort of thing. Most of the action transpires during this portion of the movie, as well - including gunplay and a chase through an abandoned warehouse. Unlike in the previous chapters of The Millennium Trilogy, there's not a lot of tension or suspense. The narrative is too intent upon answering questions and sewing up plot holes to get the adrenaline pumping.

Nykvist, who has grown into his role over the course of the three films, gives his best performance here. Rapace is as mesmerizing as in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, but her limited screen time makes it less evident. There are a couple of juicy villains. Dr. Teleborian replaces the reprehensible Nils Bjurman as the person whose comeuppance we root for most heartily. Mikael Spreitz's Ronald Niedermann is another choice bad guy - a blond sociopath who feels no pain (either physical or emotional) and appears solely devoted to killing Lisbeth. The scene in which he spies upon her while she's in the hospital is one of The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet's Nest's creepiest.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is an abject failure as a stand-alone motion picture. It will make no sense to someone without previous exposure to the characters and their circumstances, and is not made with a newcomer in mind. However, for anyone who watched and enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, this is required viewing. It’s a surprisingly neat wrap-up considering that Larsson purportedly planned for the saga to extend across another seven stories. The film's problems ultimately detract only a little from what The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest offers as the closing chapter to a unique and rewarding mystery/thriller trilogy.

Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, The (Sweden/Denmark/Germany, 2009)

Run Time: 2:28
U.S. Release Date: 2010-10-29
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: In Swedish with English subtitles
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1