The Girl Who Played With Fire, the middle book in Stieg Larsson's best-selling trilogy, is my favourite of the lot. Moving on from the whodunit of the first book, this story offers an excellent study into the inner workings of central character Lisbeth Salander, the "Girl" of the title, and how her actions and her very individualized sense of morality and fair play affect all the other players.
The Swedish film adaptation shows that when you tinker with a good thing, you get results that are not quite so good. Both the director and the writers from the first film have been replaced here, with immediately visible consequences. First, this film is both raunchier and bloodier than the previous instalment, not that "Dragon Tattoo was in any squeamish, but the violence and the sexual depictions in this film have just that little lurid edge to them which detracts from the overall feel.
More importantly, by eliminating the opening quarter of the book, in which we follow Lisbeth through various physical changes, travels (including to the Caribbean), and other developments, those coming to the movie with the benefit of the book feel cheated. One understands that time and budget certainly won't allow for every section to be included, but this portion was, in my humble judgement, essential, especially in light of what comes after (you'll have to wait for the next review.
Nevertheless, this sequel is fast-paced and entertaining, and features a raft of compelling new characters, some referenced in the first part, some not. We're introduced to Alexander Zalachenko, Soviet defector to Sweden, Lisbeth's father, and a veeery bad guy. Her half- brother (hitherto unknown) Ronald Niederman is an ice-cold blonde giant with a congenital defect that makes him all but impervious to pain. We also meet Miriam Wu, half-Chinese kickboxer and Lisbeth's sex-buddy, and Paolo Roberto, something of a sporting legend in Sweden, given that he plays himself.
Mikael Blomqvist, now a celebrity journalist, still has his magazine, Millennium, his "happily married" girlfriend and co-owner Erika and the faithful staff. This time around, its a sex and prostitution ring involving illegal immigrants that provides the subplot and which ultimately reunites him with Salander. There are of course, the superlative shots of both urban and rural Sweden and the other little touches that made the first one enjoyable.
Girl Who Played With Fire could almost be said to be the movie trilogy's "Hollywood outing". Its standard thriller far, but in the hands of the Swedes, even standard offerings have a little spice.