OK, so we all knew the second movie in the trilogy wouldn't be as good the first, and indeed it's not. Watchable certainly, but not quite as intriguing or as satisfying as its predecessor. Partly it's because this one looks more like a TV 'tec procedural – colourless and flat – than a bona fide movie, lacking the former film's visual flair.
But then Stieg Larsson's novel doesn't match the first book either. One reason is that the two main characters, Lisbeth Salander, the mercurial sociopath with brilliantly clever computer hacking skills, and Mikael Blomkvist, the doggedly determined journalist, never share any time together. Their awkward pairing was one of the many distinct pleasures of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. They're in contact, however, via the trusty internet for this follow up, which sticks closely to the book, though some characters make little impression due to time constraint truncation. Noomi Rapace, still a first rate incarnation of Salander, has few people to play off this time round as she has to remain several steps ahead of her detractors and stay hidden from the authorities. Why? It's because a young journalist investigating child trafficking and his girlfriend have been shot dead. And a gun at the scene of the crime has Salander's fingerprints on it.
Several VIPs were on the journo's list of interviewees and don't want to be found out but as Blomkvist investigates – convinced of Salander's innocence – he uncovers a more murky and darker scenario. It involves a former Soviet defector called Zalachenko who could possibly be involved in the nasty business involving innocents. As Blomkvist does his best to clear her name, including asking for assistance from a boxer friend of hers, Salander displays her customary abilities in outwitting her enemies in order to singlemindedly track down the quarry responsible for her travails. But who is it? And what will she do when she finds them?
Sorry to sound vague, but if you haven't read the novel it would be wrong to give away details of the fiendishly complicated plot. Suffice it to say that for two thirds of the way this is a very competent, well judged time-filler, briskly paced and perfectly serviceable, that never quite achieves lift-off. But then in the final act it becomes an altogether more engrossing beast. A major character revelation reveals a deeper shading to the protagonists and when the two players are at odds with one another it leads to a rivetting climax. But it also leaves some loose ends, doubtless to be tied up in the final effort, and so The Girl Who Played With Fire ends up a less rewarding experience than its precursor. That said, it's still a smartly done thriller that delivers the goods. A mark down from part one, but well worth a look nonetheless.