Oh, Noomi Rapace, how you’ve dazzled us. Through three Stieg Larsson-inspired adventures, you’ve jumped, screamed, sexed and hacked your way into filmgoers’ imaginations, even if they were only art house patrons. Your angular cheekbones, androgynous chin and bouncy night-black hair have undergone several transformations for the sake of this colorful narrative, a three-movie epic involving Neo-Nazis and their modern-day positions of power. Through all this, you have persevered.
Rapace's steely star turn is indeed the best reason to suffer through these movies, a tepid trilogy of debasement and murder that has somehow captured the imagination of Hollywood - the first English-language installment hits next Thanksgiving, the holidays being an appropriate time for murder, rape and Neo-Nazis. As Lisbeth Salander, she’s been transformed from timid computer geek to avenging action hero, even rising from the grave in the last installment. Unfortunately, at the start of “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest,” she still suffers from the repercussions of those events, bedridden with brain damage after more than a few blows to the head.
In the meantime, intrepid reported Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) continues his crusade for, ahem, justice. His Millennium periodical, staffed with a “Mission: Impossible” -like skeleton crew, remains hard at work on a story that severely discredits Salander’s abusers. In the “Dragon Tattoo” series, feminine paranoia is warranted: all men are out to dominate you and suppress your voice. Blomkvist hopes that his findings will incriminate not only Salander’s abusive freakshow father, who still carries the haunted house burns from being attacked by a preteen Lizbeth, but also the Mengele-ish psychiatrist that repeatedly raped and beat her as a child over a three-year hospital stay.
'Hornet’s Nest' is less accomplished than the previous films. Gone is the fake-prestige gloss of the first film, as this is closer to the second film’s TV-bound theatrics. But the film has a taste for the sensational that the second film proudly showcased, marred by an insincere dedication to literalism that keeps the whole outlandish story grounded in some implausible reality. There is one moment that rises above this boilerplate silliness. It’s a triumph of both character and theme when Salander finally makes her way into the courtroom to testify, clad in punk rock regalia: black leather, ghost-white makeup and a gravity-defying Mohawk.
What’s peculiar is that the one moment Lisbeth is given to take her story back, to finally control her narrative, is blunted. The peacock struts its feathers, but to what cause? A large portion of 'Hornet’s Nest' gives way to courtroom dramatics highlighted by Salander’s poker face, as she watches others bat around the circumstances of her victimization like a tennis match. The audience has sat through this character being raped, beaten, stabbed, shot-at, tortured and buried alive. Her suffering is rewarded with suited histrionics from legal teams prosecuting more evil white men.
A tacked-on action coda doesn’t go far in helping this disturbed super heroine find peace. Instead, we have to attach ourselves to Blomkvist. For the third straight movie, Blomkvist is a laughable protagonist, puffy in a way that presumes Gerard Butler ate Daniel Craig and unassuming in a way that protagonists are when they have to be not masculine enough to throw more than one convincing punch, but not so weak that they are seen in a vulnerable position for long. Blomkvist is indebted to Salander for how she saved his life in the first film, though she’s always been more of a thankless sidekick; here, she is upgraded to damsel in distress. What goes unspoken between them remains a mystery, considering their once-sexual relationship and the fact that, since she is the only woman in the films not outwardly affectionate towards him, that he seems to be waiting for a belated thank you.
The overarching story thus far revolves around the avarice and cruelty of old white men. And yet, 'Hornet’s Nest' ends with a sense of closure, as Lisbeth is finally forced to rely on the system that once discarded her. This is despite the fact that Larsson, who passed away years ago, intended the three books to be part of a 10-book narrative further considering the ties between Salander and Blomkvist. The suggestion that Salander may find herself in trouble again is no less ridiculous than the mute albino kick boxer without a pain threshold who showed up in the second film and returns here, Bond villain-style. Which is to say that there’s a certain pulp appeal to this ridiculousness, despite filmmakers’ efforts to ground the Salander story as a modern crime epic. In other words, “Dragon Tattoo In Space” and “The Girl That Rode A Pterodactyl” are calling. [C-]