Despite the mixed reviews, there’s nothing really wrong with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with it that wasn’t wrong with The Girl Who Played With Fire. In fact, it may be an improvement over that film. Both films suffer in comparison to Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—and the problem runs deeper than the change in directors. Though viewed as a trilogy, what they really feel like is Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels. The first film stands apart from the series on its own. It works without the others—and it’s simply a more satisfying film—while the others wouldn’t work without Dragon Tattoo. Of course, that can be said of most series films, but the drop-off feels a little steeper here—not that it matters to those who watched the first two movies. If you’re invested in the overall story and the characters of Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), you’re going to see the final film in the set.
Hornet’s Nest is actually less a separate film than it is the rest of the last film. It even has a kind of “last time as you remember” quality that’s designed to remind the viewer that the last film ended with Lisbeth being shot three times by her evil father, Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), after she had inhospitably put an ax in his head. This, as you perhaps know, is a deeply troubled family. She’d already tried to burn the old boy down once (not unreasonable in context)—and this doesn’t even factor in Lisbeth’s hulking freak (he’s impervious to pain) of a half-brother (Michael Spreitz), who feels a bit like he wandered in from a Hannibal Lecter story.
Now, since this family is made of sterner stuff, dad and daughter end up in the hospital, rather than the morgue, as one might reasonably expect. Ah, but there are dire doings afoot in the form of an old government conspiracy—involving Zalachenko and Lisbeth’s earlier stint in a mental hospital for the arson attempt on him. As with most conspiracies (it’s in their nature), this is a very secret affair and those responsible—even if they’re tottering into the grave—plan on keeping it secret. To this end, they try to off father and daughter, but only succeed in the former, leaving Lisbeth to recover in the hospital until she can stand trial for the attempted murder of her father. Said trial is something the remaining conspirators don’t want, but if they can get Lisbeth slapped back in the asylum, all will be well—for them.
Since watching Lisbeth on the mend has a certain limitation in terms of entertainment value, a good deal of this film focuses on Mikael, Millennium magazine and Mikael’s sister, Annika Giannini (Annika Hallin)—who is Lisbeth’s defense attorney—piecing together the evidence of the conspiracy and who is behind what. It’s engaging enough. Sometimes it’s pretty compelling. But parts of it feel clunky and even a little bit padded. And there’s no question that all of its appeal is grounded in our interest in the characters and story that’s already been established.
Those reservations—really more just observations—to one side, there’s a lot of good stuff within Hornet’s Nest. Some of the detecting business is a little thin and the seemingly endless arguments about Mikael’s obsession with Lisbeth—and how his tenacity puts other people in harm’s way—occasionally verges on the tiresome. But the trial scenes themselves are wholly satisfying and just as entertaining as you might hope, with our heroine in full goth-punk rig and makeup, silently defying the judge and jury to assume anything by her appearance. (Tony Goldwyn desperately needed to see these scenes before undertaking the courtroom scenes in Conviction.)
Similarly, the post-trial scenes are good. I mean, there’s one thing we’ve all been waiting for since the first film that has to take place and does. I’ll say no more about that; it belongs to the film. Plus, Lisbeth’s half-brother has been skulking around on the sidelines and something has to come of that—not in the least because he’s such a creepy and disagreeable character. We want a particularly worthy—and preferably unpleasant—comeuppance for the fellow. Does the film supply one? Well, that would be telling, but it’s nice to see that the whole business is handled with an appreciation for irony—and a reminder of how Lisbeth dealt with the fleeing murderer in the first film. The gap between this and Dragon Tattoo is pretty big—this won’t be on my “10 Best Movies of the Year” list and Tattoo might—but as the rest of the story, it does nicely. Rated R for strong violence, some sexual material and brief language.