“You treat your friends like dirt. Its as simple as that.”
Taking place more than a year after we’ve left Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Flickan som lekte med elden [The Girl Who Played with Fire] begins with two halves of a sprawling story soon to bring them back together. For the first two-thirds, I’d almost say one doesn’t have to watch the first installment of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy because this entry has its own case of men hating on women, the characters being the bridge connecting them. It’s nice to know, though, why an accomplished journalist would so adamantly believe a Goth, surely mentally imbalanced girl with violence in her background isn’t the culprit of the triple homicide she is being hunted for and there are also a few little tidbits, able to be glossed over, that add detail to the proceedings if you’re in on the game. Once the final act commences, however, you realize just how caught in the web everything you’ve seen is, turning this seemingly one-off detective case of falsely accused murder into a crucial look at Lisbeth, shedding light on how she became the creature she is.
Lisbeth has returned to Sweden after traveling abroad and collecting her psyche to resemble something like order and control. She seeks to keep her anonymity, by staying under a false name in a ritzy apartment while her old address is rented to ex-lover Miriam (Yasmine Garbi). Never one to let people in, Lisbeth allows her friend to stay there as long as she takes care of the mail coming in, a romantic relationship sparking again not in the cards. It’s been a year since she last spoke to Blomkvist, but the only things on her mind are visits to Per Oscarsson’s Holger Palmgren, a former guardian, and Peter Andersson’s Nils Bjurman, her current custodian, infamous from the last film. While Palmgren is a social call, Bjurman is not. She needs to remind him of their deal and the lack of recent reports to the courts saying how wonderful a child she is. What Lisbeth couldn’t know is just how interwoven this lawyer is to her past. Looking to be rid of her blackmail, he calls an unknown person and offers a trade—they get the file they’ve been asking for and he finds one less young girl sticking a gun in his face at night.
All this seems to be running parallel, but on a different trajectory, to the new Millennium piece almost published on behalf of a freelance writer and his girlfriend. Uncovering a prostitution ring involving many prominent figures in the Swedish government, Dag and Mia have the goods to ruin many lives and hopefully save more exploited girls. But before they can see the story in print—yet after her thesis is published and he has confronted many ‘johns’ for a chance to comment—they are found dead. It appears we have our case for Blomkvist to begin looking into, perhaps having Lisbeth once more hack into his computer for a look-see and offer of assistance. Before any of that has a chance of occurring, though, Bjurman is found dead and fingerprints at the scene of both crimes suggest Salander is the murderer. Anyone who saw Dragon Tattoo knows she definitely has motive with the lawyer, but the two kids were looking to help girls in trouble, a cause she would be the first to applaud. So, Blomkvist, being the only one unwilling to accept the accusations, begins to leaf through Dag’s research in hopes to find the mysterious Zala, a man of great power that may be behind everything.
Since Salander is on the run for the duration of the film, she only pops up here and there to do a little of her own brand of fact-finding. As a result, Fire is more Nyqvist’s vehicle as his Blomkvist seeks absolution for the girl he’s taken under his wing. His performance is a steady portrayal of a man on a mission and his opportunity in the spotlight, without this eccentric wildcard stealing the show as in its predecessor, shows he is a character with mettle, integrity, and no quit. His Millennium cohorts take a back seat again, but this time the police are involved—mainly Johan Kylén’s Bublanski—as a lack of help to force him into situations he may not have voluntarily joined. Besides him, a few standouts include an accused rapist, Gunnar Björk, played by Ralph Carlsson, who knows more than he lets on and does ‘a lot on his mind’ aloofness mixed with fear well; actual ex-boxer Paolo Roberto—as himself—who is recruited to help find Miriam; Garbi, in her portrayal of the same, with some slick kick-boxing moves; and, my favorite, Micke Spreitz as the brutish blond doing the dirty work and apparently impervious to pain.
In the end, though, while the mystery may not see much of Salander sleuthing with the others, it does concern her the most. Someone is on the hunt to frame and eventually kill her. Unable to show herself anywhere with wanted posters littering the streets, she also can’t reach out for help since she doesn’t know if Blomkvist would believe her story. Noomi Rapace shows again why no one is more suited for this role—sorry Rooney Mara—with a steely façade of fearless force and the perfect pinch of humanity and feeling beneath it. Each title of the trilogy uses a pronoun that signifies her, so, no matter what happens, it’s all revolving around the enigma that is Lisbeth Salander. The revelations found out here are surprising and intriguing in their natural connections, bringing everything full circle while illuminating more of this unconventional heroine. It is a tense climax that makes up for the semi-plodding start, turning what could easily have been a two-plus hour episode of procedural television into a thriller worthy of its theatrical release. I do look forward to seeing how it all ends in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, hoping that, despite Larsson’s untimely death, the author found a way to finish the character’s tale with justice.
Flickan som lekte med elden [The Girl Who Played with Fire] 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
 Jan Bublanski (Johan Kylén) and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) (Photograph by Knut Koivisto)
 Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) (Photograph by Knut Koivisto)
 Micke Spreitz stars as Ronald Niedermann and Yasmine Garbi stars as Miriam Wu in Music Box Films’ The Girl Who Played with Fire (2010)