Monday, October 18, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: The Girl's Road Comes to an End

Lisbeth Salander — the bisexual avenging angel at the center of Stieg Larsson's Millennium bestselling book trilogy and the successful Swedish films based on them (an Americanized version, starring Daniel Craig and relative newcomer Rooney Mara as Lisbeth, is currently in production) — is largely neutered, disappointingly, in the movie adaptation of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. It is scheduled to open in US theaters starting October 29.

Admittedly, Lisbeth was left barely alive at the end of the second film, The Girl Who Played With Fire. The new, final film in the trilogy picks up right where its predecessor left off, with the battered Lisbeth in surgery to remove a bullet from her head. Lisbeth recovers nicely and undergoes physical therapy with the help of her kindly, attractive attending physician even as the surviving architects of a 1970's-era conspiracy are plotting against her and Lisbeth's journalist-protector, Mikael Blomkvist (played in the Swedish version by Michael Nyqvist).

Blomkvist works at uncovering the members of "The Section," a rogue group of former secret agents responsible for having helped Lisbeth's evil father, Zalachenko, defect from the USSR in 1976. Since Lisbeth is under arrest for attempting (justly) to kill her dear old murderous dad, Blomkvist and his staff at Millennium magazine are set to publish an article in her defense. They all subsequently begin to receive ominous threats from Zalachenko's old pals, and the ground is laid for an explosive showdown between the forces of truth and those of darkness.

As one character states of Lisbeth's patriarchal plight, "It's like a classic Greek tragedy." Alas, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is mostly talk and little action. Lisbeth is given little to do this time around aside from lay in a hospital bed, do push-ups in her post-recovery jail cell, and hurl a few insults at Dr. Teleborian, the psychiatrist who abused her as a child, during her climactic trial. She does have a physical confrontation with her vicious, pain-immune brother, Ronald Niedermann, by film's end but even it seems perfunctory.

Since Lisbeth is under sedation and/or observation throughout the film, there is no opportunity for her to engage in the sexual hijinks with both women and Blomkvist that she did in the first two movies. Actress Noomi Rapace remains a strong presence as Lisbeth and is worthy of end-of-the-year awards consideration for her memorable work in the trilogy (beginning with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). However, the character comes across as much more of a victim in this edition, even though we've seen more explicit footage of Lisbeth actually being abused in the prior two, superior movies. I haven't read Larsson's source novels and therefore can't compare the films to them, but I have to ask whether the late author and/or the filmmakers are indulging the old stereotype that women abused by men when they are young grow up to be lesbians or bisexuals?

Hopefully, the upcoming English-language versions of Larsson's books won't take such a conflicted stance on Lisbeth's sexuality. The Swedes, though, have traditionally been more permissive/explicit in their films than we often-puritanical Americans. I pray the filmmakers learn that Lisbeth Salander is not a woman to be taken lightly.

Reverend's Rating: B-

UPDATE: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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