Movie Review: The Millennium Trilogy

The final movie chapter in Stieg Larsson's so-called Millennium Trilogy books finally came to my local independent theater, and I decided to see it before I actually read this book, since I knew it would not be around long enough for me to finish reading. "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" actually wraps up the ongoing story of Lisbeth Salander in a very neat and tidy way. There aren't loose ends, so much as there is the possibility of more to come, and in fact Stieg Larsson, who died at the age of 50 before seeing any of these books published, left an unfinished book behind, and possibly synopses for more.

Actually, I haven't even started the last book in the trilogy, though I've read the first two. I probably won't even buy it, now that I've seen the movie. All of the movies stayed relatively true to the plot and the spirit of the books.

Of course there are details omitted, but the basic stories remain mostly unchanged. This isn't like the complete rewriting Ludlum's Bourne books received, where the end product in no way resembled the novels.

Apparently, David Fincher has signed on to create an American version of the films, and I look forward to seeing what Fincher can create. Usually it would be anathema for a serious student of English literature to say this, but I think the entire story could use an American touch. I think they need to be punched up a bit, and a Hollywood ending, especially a David Fincher ending, would not only add some needed excitement to the stories, but might also help maintain interest in the characters if the serial continues beyond Larsson's death.

Much has been made of the intensity of the actress who plays Lisbeth Salander, the title "Girl" in the Anglicized version of the trilogy's titles. Noomi Rapace is certainly compelling to watch, but I wouldn't go so far as to call her performance Oscar-worthy. It isn't her fault. By the time we get to the third movie in the trilogy, there is really little for Rapace, and her character Salander, to do except sit in a chair looking pissed off. This is my problem with the Millennium Trilogy. Larsson created some interesting, talented characters, then had no idea what to do with them.

The investigation and occasional plot twists in the first story set the stage for the rest of the novels, but Larsson couldn't deliver on his promise. We get to watch all of the characters at their best. Salander is hacking and cracking into computers, apartments, other people's lives. She's a fantastic detective, completely underestimated by even the peers who might admire her, and that's why we like her so much. She's a great underdog, not only misunderstood by those around her, but by the state itself. She suffers no fools. She shows compassion at times, some longing for personal connections, and a complex personality that includes plenty of talent, but also obvious vulnerabilities.

So, sure, the character is compelling, but it is the way that character fits into the investigation story that drives the novel. Salander is interesting when she is on a case. We want to see her put her talents to use. She's like an incredibly smart rat in a maze. We want to see how she's going to conspire and connive her way to the end.

The second and third stories, on the other hand, portray Salander as a rat in a cage. This is much less interesting. Sure, she's the same rat, but we get to watch her hiding out, sitting still.

I think the problem is that Larsson grew enamored with his characters, and he decided to forgo any real crime novel plot in favor of a character study. He loved Lisbeth too much. He didn't want to waste any time in his novels creating an interesting and more complicated mystery to solve. He just wanted to turn his characters loose in an unstructured world and see what happens. Nothing interesting, it turns out.

The first book presented a fine mystery, with plenty of promise, especially after the memorable prologue, with an old man hanging a flower on a wall and a mystery that stretched back decades. Of course, there was nothing at stake. There was no life on the line, at least not until the very end. It was a literary mystery, barely worthy of the crime novel label. I wanted the follow up to be a more intelligent mystery. The first was a warm up, getting to know the characters and their talents. The second should have been even more intricate, with much at stake.

The first book also presented us with a fascinating relationship. Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, an unlikely duo except that they both have a genuine and professional hunger for finding the truth. Truth in them is more than a passing or paid interest, as it can be for many literary detectives. Mikael is a political journalist, Salander is fed up with a world in which people, especially men, can profit from their lies. The two of them could have been a powerful investigative force, each with their own styles and talents. The two also have plenty of leverage against their foes, which makes them characters who are more capable than naïve. Blomkvist has a publication he can use to expose or shame his culprits. Salander has her computer skills to uncover their darkest secrets.

Even the relationship between the two of them is interesting, except that by the end of the first novel, Larsson has already completely ruined it. By the end of the first story, they have stopped speaking to each other. Throughout the second story and the third, they almost never see each other in person, and they barely exchange a word.

He takes the two most interesting characters in his novels and separates them. He forgets about the crimes and the investigations and makes the next two stories a personal investigation into the life of Lisbeth Salander, a woman who adamantly does not want outside involvement in her personal life. He creates a personal narrative that involves conspiracy at the higher levels of government, but instead of sending his two best attack dogs on the hunt, he embroils them in their personal troubles and uses a series of almost inept and completely forgettable police agents to do the work that Salander and Blomkvist should have been doing all along.

Larsson's stories read like he has forgotten what made his characters interesting in the first place. Or perhaps the problem is that he never really knew. That's why I'm curious to see what a director like Fincher can bring to the party. I hope he can stick with the fascinating characters and relationships of the first book, keeping all of their skills and quirks in tact, but it would be a shame if he felt pressure to stick too closely to the source.