THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO—–“I’ve never done this before. Hold still, or it’ll get messy.” Released over a 10-month spread in 2009 with THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE and THE GIRL WITH THE HORNET’S NEST, the Swedish-made trio drew justified worldwide acclaim and success in adapting author Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular “Millennium” trilogy. Larsson had died five years earlier, so further sequels he intended were written by crime journalist David Lagerkrantz. To date, only the first film (the biggest hit of the three) has had the expected English-language remake, in 2011. It was an even bigger smash. In 2015, The Girl In The Spider Web, also an English-language picture, was adapted from the first one written by Lagerkrantz. It didn’t fare well.
Niels Arden Oplev directed The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, from a screenplay by Rasmus Heisterberg and Nicolaj Arcel. Made for $13,000,000, it registered $12,300,000 in the States, but that was just a jot off a global take of $104,114,000. Michael Nyqvist plays fearless, controversial news magazine reporter ‘Mikael Blomqvist’, investigating an unsolved family member’s murder at the request of the wealthy patriarch. The ‘Vanger’ family is not merely loaded with money, they’re riddled with unsavory characters. Decidedly offbeat assistance to the reporter comes in the form of freelance hacker ‘Lisbeth Selander’ (Noomi Rapace), an anti-social, Goth-affecting outcast with a traumatic past. That which they uncover is pretty ghastly stuff.
Cast members in the first film include Peter Haber (‘Martin Vanger’, too friendly), Peter Andersson (the vile and justly-served ‘Nils Bjurman’), Sven-Bertil Taube (old ‘Henrik Vanger’, hoping for closure), Marika Lagercrantz (‘Cecilia Vanger’, initially pleasant), Bjorn Granath (stymied policeman ‘Morell’), Ewa Froling (the vanished ‘Harriet Vanger’), Gunnell Lindblom (‘Isabella Vanger’, a real witch). Lena Endre (‘Erika’), Annika Hallin (‘Annika’), Jacob Ericksson (‘Christer’) and Sofia Ledarp (‘Malin’ , allies of Mikael, return with Nyqvist and Rapace in the sequels. 153 minutes.
The Girl Who Played With Fire, running 129 minutes, begins a year after the (highly satisfying) conclusion to the first film. Lisbeth is being framed for several murders, and Mikael makes it his perilous business to help her. With Georgi Stakov (ruthless villain ‘Zalachenko’), Yasmine Garbi (Lisbeth’s sexy occasional lover ‘Miriam Wu’), Paulo Roberto, Per Oscarsson, Magnus Krepper, Anders Ahlbom (sadistic doctor ‘Teleborian’), and Micke Spreitz (unstoppable 6’6″ hulk ‘Niedermann’). Daniel Alfredson directed this one, with scripting done by Jonas Frykberg. Lisbeth’s near-miraculous return from the grave (literally) pushes acceptance, but not enough to derail things. Figures on production cost indicate four million Euros (damned if I will figure that out in reloading it to current U.S. dollars) but the worldwide gross came to $67,153,000.
Ahlbom, Spreitz and Staykov return as some of the bad guys (really bad) in the finish The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, again directed by Alfredson, this time with Ulf Rydberg on the script. It’s a little longer at 147 minutes, and like the second picture, stretches credibility some, but that’s not big deal considering the quality of the acting; investment in the characters remains high. With Aksel Morisse (a good physician), Niklas Hjulstrom (confident prosecutor) and Lennart Hjulstrom (bad guy Big Cheese). Making this one appears to have taken $5,300,000 (so, is that the same as four million Euros? Lisbeth would know, but she most likely wouldn’t tell me), easily redeemed by a gross of $44,276,000.
Throughout, Nyqvist and Rapace are compelling, the supporting casts are likewise strong, the stories are gripping, the tension level kept on torque. Not exactly pleasant material, but superbly done. Fans argue over whether the 2011 remake of the first one is better or not as good: I think they’re both excellent, but maybe favor the remake by a hair. Haven’t read the books, so the pro-con jousting about the novels vs. the films isn’t a piefight this non-aligned observer will jump into. Nyqvist is a master at conveying character information with the smallest changes of expression. Rapace is marvelous at making someone oddly appealing out of such a determinedly off-putting individual. Lisbeth is for sure a great character–on film: in real life I guess it would depend on whether she liked you or not. The odds not in your favor or mine.