A Hornet’s Nest of a Story

The third film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s famous trilogy stings the viewer

The same decrease in quality between the first and second installments of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy continues here. Where the first story, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, had taut criss-crossing subplots of boundless significance, the final act of the trilogy is little more than a tepid courtroom drama with some willy-nilly spectacle thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps the author’s gravest sin is his refusal to follow up on the budding romantic relationship that developed in the first story between his simpatico protagonists. Without the buzzing energy between Noomi Rapace’s goth-girl vixen Lisbeth Salander and Michael Nyqvist’s activist Mikael Blomkvist that made Dragon Tattoo a stunning success, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is a fallen cake.

Since taking over the series from director Niels Arden Oplev (Dragon Tattoo), Daniel Alfredson remains unable to massage the revenge-based source material into the rapid kick-and-punch that Oplev executed with ease. Yet another change of screenwriter also contributes to a lack of cohesion in the final chapter. The switching of directors and writers has done the franchise no favors.

Hornet’s Nest picks up where the second film left off, with the wounded Lisbeth being airlifted to a hospital after a night of deadly brutality at her evil father’s remote cabin. Lisbeth lies in a hospital bed with a bullet in her head while murder charges threaten to strip her freedom. Still romantically driven, magazine publisher Mikael sets out to prove Lisbeth’s innocence in the face of extensive political corruption with a tell-all article in his magazine.

As in the second episode, Lisbeth and Mikael are kept inappropriately apart save for a brief meeting where she makes it clear that their amour is a strictly one-sided affair. His affection is not returned. Lisbeth remains a remote protagonist that the audience can best understand as a well-defended victim with a badass sense of style.

The first film had an intriguing 40-year-old mystery pulling the two charismatic activists together in spite of their vastly different personal lives. In the second film (The Girl Who Played With Fire), the newly rich Lisbeth returns to Stockholm from a luxurious vacation to find herself a hunted criminal. Of primary importance to the film is Lisbeth’s vendetta against her father. A sex-trafficking sub-plot muddles the triptych’s theme of society-sanctioned abuses against women.

News that David Fincher will direct an American version of the series, starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, holds the promise of achieving a higher level of continuity for Larsson’s material. Perhaps a more romantically developed narrative from some savvy screenwriter could improve on what in its current version can only be viewed as a failure.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (R) ★★☆☆☆