REVIEW: Luftslottet som sprängdes [The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest] [2009]

“You have been one of the most entertaining patients I’ve had in a long time”

While The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was by far the most captivating and unique of the Millennium Trilogy’s installments, the final two—as a pair—officially and successfully close the story of Lisbeth Salander. We’ll never know exactly what author Stieg Larsson was setting out to do with this opus, nor if it was truly complete as a trio, but as films from director Daniel Alfredson, The Girl Who Played with Fire and Luftslottet som sprängdes [The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest] deserve to be seen as one whole. Tattoo introduced us to Salander (Noomi Rapace) and journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), setting them on a collision course to uncover a mystery long left buried, as well as find each other in a sort of half father/daughter, half romantic coupling of lonely souls existing in tough personal circumstances. Ending with a nicely packaged conclusion, the story could have stopped right there, but Fire came about to make it personal. The case to be solved was now about Salander and her dark past, yet, while those secrets are uncovered before its end, they aren’t solved until Nest.

Taking place immediately after the final blowout of the previous film, we see that both victims of familial squabble have survived their injuries. Lisbeth is broken, to say the least, and in need of massive rehabilitation while her father, Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), a self-proclaimed ‘survivor’, has somehow cheated death, lying about in the hospital as though he didn’t just have an axe lodged in his skull. Both are angered the other still breathes, but neither are in a position to do anything about it. Salander is facing attempted murder charges—stemming from her history of mental instability, despite having three gunshot wounds to prove self defense—and Zalachenko’s ego has made him expendable. The government conspiracy uncovered in Fire, dealing with the defected Soviet spy’s work in Sweden, begins to come into focus as the secret society of insiders who have been working outside the system for almost fifty years meets to discuss their options. Silencing father and daughter for good would be the best option, but it won’t be easy as the girl’s personal guardian angel in Blomkvist is ready to fight tooth and nail for her innocence and the story of the century.

In possession of the documents Lisbeth found at her guardian/abuser Bjurman’s home, the details of injustice done has been pieced together. All the supposed lies she told to the police and her psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom), now look to be completely true and her captivity, after burning her father in an attempt to stop his abuse of her mother, the doings of this elite fraternity to silence the girl who had the ability to out them all. Visibly shaken, Zalachenko’s old partners are ready to do whatever is necessary to protect their legacy and those who have taken up their mantle. Most are about to meet their makers due to disease, (Hans Alfredson’s Evert Gullberg and Lennart Hjulström’s leader Fredrik Clinton), but that only causes them to be more desperate. If they can’t get to Salander, they will look to destroy Blomkvist and his magazine in hopes to discredit and silence him in case the work he’s compiling includes the sort of incriminating evidence they believe it does. As a result, we get only a few instances of the graphic violence we’ve become used to in this saga.

And that’s why these two films exist as a pair—Fire is where all the action resides and Nest is about the aftermath. Because of this, much of what happens concerns lengthy conversations, investigative work, (both the good guys and bad simultaneously surveilling each other), and courtroom drama. The time for bloodshed has come and gone with current police involvement, so we watch as Lisbeth recovers and writes an account of all that happened to her since childhood; Blomkvist and Lena Endre’s Erika Berger work to get their book published in time for the trial while also exposing the conspiracy that’s been happening for half a century, which is almost complete due to the work by Niklas Falk’s Edklinth and Mirja Turestedt’s Figuerola; Clinton’s men look to continue using lies and deceit to bury everything again; and Micke Spreitz’s freak Niedermann remains on the lamb, waiting for the chance to kill his half-sister for what she did to their father. Yeah, that’s a lot to keep track of, but somehow Ulf Ryberg’s script manages to sift through, keeping coherency. Credit that to Larsson too for really having a handle on his characters, making sure to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’.

The acting is superb across the board with the par-for-the-course full embodiment of character on behalf of Rapace and Nyqvist, as well as great supporting roles. Now that the action is put to the back burner, we see background characters take a larger share of screentime. Blomkvist’s sister, Annika Giannini (Annika Hallin) represents Salander in court and does well to straddle the line of smart, tough-as-nails lawyer with the vulnerability of a pregnant woman who sees her brother’s level of investment in her client. She and the prosecuting attorney for Clinton’s collective, Ekström (Niklas Hjulström), have a wonderfully tense back and forth during the odd—for audiences versed in the American judicial system—courtroom scenes. However, I think Ahlbom’s Teleborian might give the series its best villainous turn. The fact this psychiatrist is lying and creating false realities to convince the panel of judges that Lisbeth is schizophrenic and living in multiple fantasy worlds has the perfect amount of ironic sleaze. A puppet for the men behind this troubled woman’s entire tragic life, he becomes the surrogate antagonist for all those who’ve come before him—the final piece standing in the way of her freedom.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is a worthy conclusion to a mystery trilogy full of tension and thrills. It uses the graphic scenes of the films before it as evidence rather than action and, as a result, is the tamest of the three. But don’t take that as an excuse to skip the harrowing events of Tattoo or the crazy revelations of Fire, because without them Nest is nothing. Larsson appears to have envisioned Lisbeth Salander’s story as the sum of its parts, using a one-off cold case mystery to serve as a backdrop to character exposition before allowing those iconic roles to exist on their own. Trust me, the twists and turns of the benevolent and evil people around her are more than enough to sustain interest, allowing this emotionally detached, assumed miscreant, a chance to achieve what’s always been out of reach—a sense of humanity.

Luftslottet som sprängdes [The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest] 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Annika Giannini (Annika Hallin) and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace)
[2] Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist)
[3] Hans Alfredson stars as Evert Gullberg in Music Box Films’ The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2010)

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