Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy is perhaps one of the most interesting female protagonist's in modern fiction. As a ward of the state, she's treated as a child with no legal rights by the system that has failed her since childhood, yet she's also a brilliant hacker with a photographic memory. As a survivor of mental, physical, and sexual abuse, she revenges herself by her own rules and on her own terms: meticulously, violently, and often illegally. Published after Larsson's death, the books are bestsellers around the world, and the film adaptations have finally made their way to the US in the past year.
Larsson's dedication to methodical detail was probably a boon for his work as a journalist, but it more than occasionally makes for dry and clunky reading. However, fans forge on to find out what would happen next to our beloved Lisbeth. When Noomi Rapace took on the formidable challenge of playing such a complicated character in 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' it was probably with some trepidation; after all, how could one person satisfy the millions of readers who have already conjured up their own Lisbeths? Luckily, Rapace is as intriguing to watch as Lisbeth is to read about, and similar to Lisbeth herself, it's hard to imagine the movie series being nearly as interesting without Rapace in them. This is most true of 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest,' which is the weakest link in both the movie and the book trilogy.
By the time we catch up with her in 'Hornet's Nest,' she's recovering from being shot by her father at the end of 'The Girl Who Played With Fire.' Meanwhile, her old friend and former lover, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), continues his investigation of Salander's father, the grotesque Zalachenko, which reveals an increasingly complicated government conspiracy. As it turns out, her father is a Soviet spy who defected to Sweden and has since been protected by a super-secret government organization that answers to no other powers. Salander is enemy number one, and they're determined to keep her quiet.
Director Niels Arden Oplev's 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' had a more serious, art house feel to it, despite the wonderfully pulpy story. The screenplay, by Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel, manages to streamline the story by eliminating some relationships -- mostly the sexual kind, since Blomkvist is a bit of a ladies' man -- without sacrificing too much else. However, the second two were adapted by Jonas Frykberg and directed by Daniel Alfredson, and the switch is clear from the movies' tone and direction. Arden Oplev has said that he dropped out of the series because of the time constraints they were under to write, film and edit the second two movies, which do feel more rushed than 'Dragon Tattoo.'
At its heart, 'Fire' is an action movie; it has a slightly flimsier feel than 'Dragon Tattoo,' and there are definite plot holes, but it keeps a good pace and offers up plenty of Lisbeth. 'Hornet's Nest' has a number of things working against it from the beginning. It's a convoluted story with many new characters split into different factions -- the secret police, the regular police, the security people that are trying to help the regular police, the magazine staff, and, of course, Lisbeth. It would be nearly impossible to follow without having seen and/or read the second. It's just not possible to adapt Larsson's books into screenplays without being reductive, but 'Hornet's Nest' feels unnecessarily so. But most importantly, there's just not enough Lisbeth.
Lisbeth is the most interesting character in the series, and Rapace is the most dynamic actor in the cast. The movie tries to give her more face time, but that doesn't make up for the sluggish pace. This is especially important since all three movies are over two hours each. Watching the magazine editors squabble or elderly government gents discuss paperwork is just not as exciting as watching Rapace do, well, anything. Her performance makes even the most outlandish parts of the story, like her courthouse outfit, forgivable.
It's not clear if Larsson ever wrote more books in the Millennium series since his estate is at the center of a he said/she said squabble between his family and his life partner, so it seems unlikely that we'll ever get a fourth Salander-starring movie. Luckily, we'll be seeing plenty more of Noomi Rapace in the future in other movies like 'Sherlock Holmes 2' -- just without her mohawk.