The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest
Every Guardian reader’s favourite kickboxing, lesbian Goth avenger is back in the third and least of Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest. And she’s just as mopey as ever.
Some films are bulletproof. It doesn’t matter how bad the film is, it doesn’t matter what you say about it, people, in their droves, are still going to slap their hard-earned down at the Brothel of Cinematic Delights ticket booth; they’re going to buy a ticket, some industrial-strength cheesy nachos and a bucket of Coke, and they’re going to sacrifice 149 buttock-numbing minutes of their life to see it. There’s a great many things wrong with The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest (poorly paced, poorly executed, a distinct lack of hornets or indeed wasps of any stripe…) but let’s face it, if you’ve read the Steig Larsson potboilers and you’ve seen the previous two films, nothing I say is going to put you off seeing it. So let’s stick to the film’s good points. Well, it’s the last in the series (unless Derek Acorah gets in touch with Steig and ghostwrites a few more). And we have David Fincher’s big-budget Hollywood remakes to look forward to. Ok, I’m blank, so much for the good points.
As indestructible as Michael Myers and twice as taciturn, lesbian Goth avenger Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is recovering in hospital from being beaten, repeatedly shot (once in the head!) and buried alive in The Girl Who Played With Fire and is under arrest, charged with attempted murder after taking a hatchet to her evil/KGB agent/white slaver/sex trafficker/criminal mastermind/Bond villain father at the climax of the previous film. As there’s obviously only one hospital in the whole of Sweden, dear old Dad is recovering just down the hall from Lisbeth, plotting his revenge and blackmailing the shadowy network of spies and politicians, “the Section”, who’ve been protecting him for the last 30 years while he was busy being a criminal mastermind. Unsurprisingly, the Section finds the whole blackmail thing a teeny bit ungrateful and despatch a retired spook to assassinate him and his troublesome daughter. When the elderly lone gunman succeeds only in offing Daddy before turning the gun on himself, it’s up to crusading journalist (and the only man who ever turned Lisbeth!), Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to clear Lisbeth’s name and save her from the conspiracy that’s out to send her back to the funny farm and the dastardly clutches of lip-licking dodgy shrink Dr Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom). Luckily Blomkvist’s sister Annika (Annika Hallin) is a lawyer and, in the best traditions of courtroom drama, despite never having handled a big trial, she’ll give representing Lisbeth her best shot. Meanwhile, in a sub-plot that feels like an afterthought, Lisbeth’s half-brother Niedermann (Micke Spreitz), who can’t feel pain in typically Bond villain fashion, is lurching around the country like Boris Karloff, casually bricking inconsequential characters introduced solely to give him someone to kill while he’s hanging around waiting for the climactic showdown with his wee sister…
Unbelievably managing to be even more plodding and po-faced than the previous entries in the series, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest should’ve been called The Girl Who Spent The Whole Film In Bed since that’s where the heroine is for half of the film, recovering from having a bullet pulled from her brain while occasionally texting her memoirs to Blomkvist – “set dad on fire…got raped…lol…;-)”. And there’s nothing exciting about watching a moody Goth text. Worse, the film takes itself inordinately seriously. Which is a shame as The Girl Who Spent The Whole Film In Bed is one of the more ludicrous films I’ve seen recently. In fact, I spent much of The Girl Who Spent The Whole Film In Bed picking holes in the plot and occasionally uttering a derisive “Ha”. Leaving aside the whole question of why a shadowy spy network like the Section continues persecuting a moody Goth, exposing themselves in the process, despite already killing the only character aware of their existence (her father) and able to link them to a crime, The Girl Who Spent The Whole Film In Bed is packed with moments that defy narrative logic.
Why do the two deadly Serbian snipers hired by the Section to assassinate Blomkvist decide that the best way to do so is by having one of them walk up to him in a crowded café and try to shoot him while the other waits in the car for the cops to spot him?
They spent the whole of the Yugoslav Civil War killing civilians from a mile away with high-powered rifles. Surely some sort of triangulated crossfire from an elevated position as Blomkvist leaves the café would’ve been more successful?
The Section try to discredit Blomkvist by breaking into his flat and planting cocaine. A journalist? With a big bag of coke? Would that really shock the Swedes?
Lisbeth’s trial hinges upon illegally obtained information hacked from her psychiatrist’s computer. Is presentation of illegally obtained confidential information admissible in a Swedish court?
In the last film hadn’t Lisbeth been framed for 3 murders and her fingerprints were all over the murder weapon? How did she get out of that?
A major sub-plot revolves around Blomkvist and his colleagues agonising over whether to print Lisbeth’s story as they’re being threatened and the magazine takes a month to put together. Why not just stick it on the Internet?
For that matter, one of the crucial pieces of evidence at Lisbeth’s trial is the video of her rape at the hands of her former guardian. Lisbeth’s supposed to be a computer genius…why didn’t she just upload it to YouTube in the first movie?
And, as she’s actually being tried for the attempted murder of her father, wouldn’t Lisbeth’s trial kinda, you know, focus on her attacking Daddy with a hatchet?
Perhaps the most important question that the movie never answers however is: are there any middle aged men in Sweden that aren’t into kiddie-rape? Because on the evidence of this series of films, Sweden looks like an ideal retirement destination for Gary Glitter.
While the film is poorly paced, sprawling and unwieldy, with frequent flashbacks and recaps, and one-note performances, the blame ultimately lies with the novels themselves. Rapace and Nyquist, both capable actors, have little to do other than avoid bumping into the furniture and, as in the previous film, they share little screen-time. Their characters don’t develop or progress in any way (he’s as earnest and humourless as he was in the first film, she’s still a miserable cow) but once you realise that the books aren’t really a trilogy but an ongoing series prematurely cut short by the author’s death it’s not a huge surprise that the characters show little growth. By sticking slavishly to the novels, the films never assume a life of their own, they lumber along like Lisbeth’s indestructible brother, wasting time in search of an ending, and much of The Girl Who Spent The Whole Film In Bed is concerned with tying up loose ends left hanging by the previous two films.
Lacking any form of dramatic tension, the film bumbles along from one thriller cliché to the next, ticking boxes (desperate race against time…check, bad guys who spend too much time explaining the plot…check, underdog triumphs in courtroom scene…check and doublecheck) before trying to inject some last minute suspense by having Lisbeth and Niedermann slug it out in a derelict factory full of conveniently abandoned weapons (like a nailgun. Who throws away a perfectly serviceable nailgun?). What should be the exciting climax of the series as Lisbeth fights for her life and takes revenge for the years of abuse she’s suffered at the hands of patriarchal society feels perfunctory, lacks any sense of satisfaction. You’re never in any doubt which of them is going to be relaxing in the tattooist’s chair at the end of the day and the film just fizzles out. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest desperately needs a sting in its tail.
Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyquist, Georgi Staykov, Micke Spreitz, Annika Hallin, Anders Ahlbom
Ulf Rydberg & Jonas Fryberg, based on the novel by Steig Larsson