The Girl Who Played With Fire Review

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AKA: Flickan som lekte med elden
Genre: Thriller/Mystery
Year Released: 2009
Distributor: Music Box Films

Origin: Sweden
Running Time: 129 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: R
Related Films/Series: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011 American Remake), Millennium, The Girl in the Spider’s Web
For Fans Of: The Black Dahlia, Storm, Monster (Naoki Urasawa anime), Taken
Notes:
-I viewed the Extended Edition of this film which in reality is episodes 3 and 4 of the Millennium TV miniseries combined. The content does match the context of The Girl Who Played With Fire albeit in a TV setting with roughly 40 extra minutes of footage. Part of this version will be discussed in the review.

-The Swedish language track was used.

-This film is the direct sequel to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It’s imperative to watch that film before watching the rest of the trilogy. Some spoilers involving the previous film will be discussed.
Fun Facts:
-Lisbeth is a Gothic analog of Pippi Longstocking but done in a deconstructive fashion. I would have never made the connection with those two characters.

-The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest were both directed by Daniel Alfredson. He’s also directed Blackway.

-Paolo Roberto is actually a celebrity cameo and not a fictional character. He was a boxer in real life with a record of 28-4-1 in terms of wins, losses, and draws respectively. In his home country of Sweden, he was also a contestant on Let’s Dance which is the Swedish version of Dancing With the Stars.


As you know, I’ve watched and reviewed the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo film. I had to check out the other installments in the Millennium Trilogy to see how this would play out.

The Girl Who Played With Fire takes place a year after the Vanger Family incident. Now, Lisbeth buys an apartment in Stockholm with some help from an organization called Wasp. She tries living her own life while at the same time not contacting her friends with the exception of her ex-girlfriend Miriam Wu. As this goes on, Mikael has been busy with his job back at Millennium where they hire two new upstart reporters who catch wind of a human trafficking case going on in Sweden. Mikael is concerned about Lisbeth because she hasn’t responded to his emails and calls for over a year now. Things get dangerous as the news reporters get killed as they find more information about this trafficking ring and Lisbeth’s fingerprints are on the gun.

This kicks off with a brief recap of the events from the first movie while also laying the groundwork for this new case while also introducing some new characters into the fold. I did enjoy Mikael’s performance in this movie since he wants to make sure that Lisbeth is okay while also doing his best to repay her after saving him from the hands of Martin Vanger. You can feel him wanting to reconnect with her and you want Lisbeth to finally stop what she’s doing to just respond to him for once. I even enjoyed Lisbeth getting called out by secondary character Armansky for her selfishness and not wanting to communicate with people who legitimately care about her. The character development and chemistry between the two are just impeccable. Mikael even gets to be in the position to help Lisbeth as she’s framed for murder while providing evidence that she didn’t commit the crime. Man, Mikael is one of the best friends that anyone can have.

There’s also more information about Lisbeth’s backstory including other family members and other things she’s done in the past. We find out that she’s taken kickboxing classes which explains why she’s a great fighter and can beat up multiple people. There are other characters who know about her. Some want to see her succeed while others want to see her institutionalized again or dead. There are elements where you can see where Lisbeth is coming from with all of the Freudian elements that make up her character.

The case involved is even more intense than the Vanger Family Incident but in different ways. There’s a mysterious villain who goes by the name Zala who has political connections and is tied to various events in ways people don’t even realize. There’s even the giant blonde powerhouse (spoiler alert) named Ronald Niedermann who is able to beat up several people without a sweat. What makes him even more dangerous is that he has a genetic disorder where he can’t feel pain. Micke Spreitz, who played Neidermann looks really imposing while perfectly selling the fact that he can feel no pain despite getting punched and kicked senselessly while still fighting back. The revelation of Zala was quite intriguing and I didn’t know who it was at first until I started piecing some of the clues. He is one ruthless villain who’s disturbingly calm as he masterminds various murders.

While The Girl Who Played With Fire continues some of the intense elements in its predecessor, I can’t say all the elements are executed well. The human trafficking element should have been played up more in why the villains should be arrested, but it gets dropped almost halfway through in the movie. Some elements even felt unrealistic like one character who gets buried alive is able to dig themselves out the next morning. While the imagery was cool, I would expect that from a superhero movie and not a film that’s supposed to be more realistic. One major issue I had was the casting choice of Miriam Wu. The character is supposed to be a Chinese-French immigrant to Sweden, and her actress clearly doesn’t look Asian. While doing research for this film, I found out that her actress Yasmine Garbi was Italian/Sami/Tunisian mixed (she’s Swedish from a national perspective though). None of those ethnic groups are Asiatic while her Tunisian side would be the only one that would be considered nonwhite. When Scarlet Johannson looks more Asian when playing Major Motoko Kusanagi in the American Ghost in the Shell live-action remake, then you know something’s wrong. There’s also a plot hole with Wasp. Who are they and why would they want to pay Lisbeth’s rent over a year in advance? They never bring this up again.

As mentioned in the Notes section, my experience of The Girl Who Played With Fire involved what was considered to be the extended version. I expected this to be an expanded movie as one could tell, but I was duped. It was really episodes 3 and 4 of the Millennium TV series combined to make it one three-hour movie. You can tell because it says Millennium right after the opening credits with the number of the episodes. Halfway through, I saw the ending credits before it went straight to what would be considered the second half of the movie. While I won’t deduct my score because of this viewing experience, but I wished that this could have been edited into one long movie without the repeated opening and closing credits. Just be warned if you check out any of the “extended editions” of the Millennium Trilogy. You’re really watching combined episodes of the Millennium TV miniseries.

The Girl Who Played With Fire isn’t as good as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but it is a nice continuation of a great trilogy. The suspense and action are still top-notch. The acting is superb with the chemistry between Mikael and Lisbeth improving despite their separation for half the film. There are some questionable elements like some of the plot holes or aspects of the Miriam Wu character (and I’m not just talking about the whitewashing). Some aspects of the murder case get dropped, but different aspects are appropriately played up. I was slightly disappointed, but I’ve seen sequels that are much worse. This film is still worth your time.


Adjustable Point System:

Add 1 point if you’re a fan of the Millennium Trilogy
Subtract 2-3 points if you don’t like sexual elements as plot points



Pros:
-The Mikael/Lisbeth chemistry and character development
-Threatening main villains
-Great fight scenes

Cons:

-The casting choice for Miriam Wu
-Plot holes are obvious
-Some unrealistic elements despite a realistic environment



Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Advisory: Much like the first movie in the Millennium Trilogy, this is for older audiences only. The violence is graphic and people get murdered in a bloody fashion. There are elements of rape and sex trafficking as legitimate plot points and one of which is the infamous scene with Nils Bjurman which gets referenced again. Miriam and Lisbeth even have a lesbian sex scene early on in the film which will trigger some people. There’s strong language involved, but that’s one of the tamer elements but that’s nothing compared to the connotations of Zala berating Lisbeth when they talk in the final act. You will be wishing for someone to put a bullet in his head when you realize the gravity of what he’s talking about and how it ties into the main heroine.

-Curtis Monroe

All other photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

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