The late Stieg Larsson centered his Millennium Trilogy around cruelty towards women -- and the movie adaptations don't hold back either.
The second movie of the trilogy, "The Girl Who Played With Fire," is a tightly wound thriller that is almost as good as the first. It lacks some of the raw, wild, dark energy, but it tangles together some razor-sharp social commentary (sex trafficking) with car chases and conspiracies. Best of all, it still has brilliant performances by Michael Nyqvist and Noome Rapace.
A year after "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," Millennium magazine has a new reporter -- Dag Svensson (Hans Christian Thulin) and his girlfriend are doing reports on sex trafficking and prostitution. But then Mikael (Nyqvist) finds both of them dead in their apartment, and Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) -- the cruel "guardian" who raped Lisbeth -- has been brutally shot in the head.
Since Lisbeth (Rapace) just returned to Stockholm (and threatened to shoot Bjurman), she becomes the No. 1 suspect in all three murders. Even though, y'know, she had no motive for two of them.
Of course, Mikael doesn't believe that she did it -- especially since a hostile blond giant is going around beating up anyone (a trainer, a casual girlfriend) who might know Lisbeth's whereabouts. As Lisbeth goes on her own dark mission, she tells Mikael that he should look for someone named "Zala." But when Mikael starts hunting for information on this mystery man, he also learns more about Lisbeth's dark past...
Lisbeth Salander was something of a mystery in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" -- we knew she was troubled, a brilliant hacker, and had been in a psych ward. But "The Girl Who Played With Fire" rips away all that mystery and shows us where Lisbeth Salander came from, and how she became a lonely, punky avenging angel. It's pretty nasty, and it ends on a cliffhanger (for crying out loud!).
The biggest problem with this story is that it lacks the raw, primal energy that made the first movie so vibrant. But it's still a tightly-wound thriller with plenty of unpolished fighting, bloody violence, and some moments of bleak humor (Lisbeth "renting" a car after shoving the clerk in a locker). The most disturbing parts are undeniably the flashbacks to Lisbeth's past, both with her family and in a psych ward (depicted in a surreal, blurry-white nightmare).
And it's all wound around more unpleasant aspects of modern Swedish society, centering on cruelty towards women -- sex trafficking in a modern country, and the evil "Zala's" ability to get away with anything he wanted.
And while Nyqvist does a good job here, the real spotlight here is on Noome Rapace. This woman is brilliant -- all lean wildcat energy, haunted eyes and half-hidden pain. While Lisbeth seems to have healed a little from her past experiences (she seems more open and friendly), there's still a river of darkness flowing just under the surface, and Rapace does a particularly good job when Lisbeth goes a-hunting for the bad guys.
"The Girl Who Played With Fire" doesn't have the spark of the first movie, but it still has an electric brilliance and scathing social exploration.