Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest [Luftslottet som sprängdes] (2009)
Daniel Alfredson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the final chapter of the first, native Swedish round of movie adaptations of Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy. Like Alfredson's previous chapter, The Girl Who Played with Fire, it's very good. It's hard to choose one to prefer over the other. Yet they still both suffer slightly in comparison to Niels Arden Oplev's chilly and fascinating opening salvo, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Still, there's little to complain about in this suspenseful and satisfying conclusion. David Fincher's whateverized version with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig is forthcoming.
The film opens just where the previous one left off, with no time lapse this time. If you've seen The Girl Who Played with Fire, you know that not just the girl played with fire and got burned, but quite a few people--and not just burned, but stabbed, tied up, axed, shot, kickboxed, buried alive & c.
So we're off to the hospital for major surgeries. And not only surgeries, but some sanctuary for our bruised heroine Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and a chance to tell her side of the story, Scheherezade-like, with the help of Mikael Nyqvist (Michael Blomqvist) and young Dr. Jonasson (Askel Morisse, very good). But hold up. We're going to spend a lot of time in this hospital.
The Swedish title of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is "Luftslottet som sprängdes," which I translate pretty literally as "The Castle in the Air That Exploded." The English "Hornet's Nest" version is okay and fits the story, too, and one can understand why they wanted to use "The Girl" construction in English to unify the three books in English-speaking readers' minds. But "The Castle in the Air That Exploded" is pretty darn evocative on its own. It could reference Thomas Love Peacock's "castles in the air," Thoreau's "in the sky," Magritte's "Castle in the Pyrenees," Kafka--The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest also has a trial--and William Burroughs's The Ticket That Exploded.
It's hard to discount any of these references. This series is contemporary, but haunted with ghosts of the past century. Lisbeth Salander is the ultimate system-created victim of the worst elements of the system. Her victimization becomes the top priority, and the last, attenuated gasp of the deadly political viruses of the twentieth century. But she fights back. The only way she can? That's more debatable, an open question.
"The Hornet's Nest" that gets kicked, or "The Castle in the Air" that explodes, is "The Section," a secretive cell born of the Cold War which has protected and harbored illegal activities including murder, human trafficking and more. Lisbeth Salander's whole life has been lived within that secretive pocket, until her own devices created a small opening which might be big enough to slip through before the walls come crashing down. But either way, they are going to crash down, and the bombs are all painted with Lisbeth's revolutionary slogan "Sadistic Pig."
But, as mentioned earlier, Lisbeth is not in the clear as this film opens. She's wanted for murder and attempted murder. Her story is unknown generally. She's a ward of the state. And the swarm of crazy old criminal farts she stirred up with her kicks is aimed straight at silencing her at whatever cost. We see Lisbeth's former guardian Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) briefly, but he's been replaced as the evillest, slimiest person in the world by Anders Ahlbom as Lisbeth's childhood tormentor, and a keystone in the "Section" conspiracy, Dr. Peter Teleborian. Teleborian once had Lisbeth under his complete control, and he sees no reason why this should not resume and continue, handily protecting his co-conspirators and his own secrets at the same time.
Lisbeth's lack of legal standing and the charges against her make this a real possibility, unless there is a way to get her side of the story, with evidence, into the public eye. This is the job of Mikael Blomqvist and Millennium magazine, and not without risks and losses. Annika Hallin reappears as Nyqvist's sister, Annika Giannini, pregnant, radiant and tough here, appearing for the defense, in a larger and more effective role than before. She defends a defiant Lisbeth, mohawked and mostly silent through her last, or nearly last ordeal, evoking Joan of Arc, but with some last-minute blockbuster evidence up her sleeve. Lisbeth's plight even brings Plague (Tomas Köhler) out of the basement. At one point, a character voices what we've known all along, that Lisbeth's story "is like a Greek tragedy." It becomes a laugh line, the understatement of the bloody century, at least.
Like The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest does also have the disadvantage of following the very great first film, and also does suffer mildly by comparison. But distance helps, and the final film feels more of a piece than the second. Its images are striking and powerful, and its story has a rhythm and inevitability which ties it to both of the previous films persuasively. (You can tell it's set in Sweden because the furniture in Lisbeth's prison cell is stunning.) I still haven't read the books, but likely will. It's a gorgeous and iconic trilogy, it was great to see it all play out, and the big question now left in my mind is for which film Rapace will win her Best Actress Oscar. It could be any of them (but should probably be Dragon Tattoo). And Michael Nyqvist for Best Supporting Actor.
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