Well, now she’s done it. Or… that’s what you’d think, based on the title of the third film in the Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes). The movie begins by reminding you of what happened in the last minutes of the last film—Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) was shot in the head, beaten senseless, and tossed into a muddy grave, after which she lurched to her feet just long enough to go after her dad Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov) with an axe, in the rain—all leading you to think that what comes next involves some serious kicking of metaphorical nests.
You’d be wrong. Instead, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest falls back on the formula which has brought the series this far, that is, inflicting trauma and abuse on Lisbeth. It certainly makes her mad—she fumes with conviction, and she’s had a lot of practice—but this time, most of it occurs in flashback. This as Lisbeth recovers from brain surgery and awaits trial for murder (this contrived, very unconvincingly, at film’s start). She also draws the interest of the very nice Dr. Jonasson (Aksel Morisse), who provides her with a handheld (illicit) so she can communicate with Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). He suggests that she start writing her autobiography, so that she’ll be prepared for court, and so she starts thumbing her keyboard at lightning speed, while the film cuts away to terrible images of the child Lisbeth strapped to a bed, prey for the very mean psychiatrist Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl).
If these images don’t provide new narrative (the first two films have already indicated that Lisbeth’s past represents a broad system of oppression), they are offered here as a vague and creepy kind of therapy, or at least a first step toward making her personal pain a public indictment. Powerful men have colluded to keep their secrets, specifically secrets concerning their brutal mistreatment of girls. Lisbeth is “the girl who” fights back, furious and resilient, and vengeful. In the past, she has meted out gruelingly physical reprimands, bloody and bone-breaking, satisfying but by definition fleeting.
At the same time, Lisbeth’s flashbacks—rendered with artful shadows, low angles, and soft-ish focus—repeat the franchise’s use of her abuse to appall and titillate. It’s not Saw, but it’s working the same concept: incessant violence creates a righteous victim, and then the violence delivered in return feels, well, righteous. The more brutal the better.
For all the bad men who put on false fronts—here a network of doctors, lawyers, academics, and politicians—the most brutal undoing will be systemic. And so Lisbeth agrees to work within the system that has so long seemed horrific to her, that called her a liar when she was a child, committed her to an institution, and made her young, pale body available to a range of monsters. Now she’s going to dismantle the men’s system of power, privilege and secrecy, yes, their hornets’ nest.
To do this, Lisbeth must not only tap out that autobiography (which Mikael reads with an aptly pained expression on his face), but she must also appear in court, with a lawyer. How fortunate that Mikael has just the one, his sister Annika (Annika Hallin). She prepares the case with evidence uncovered by Mikael and his magazine team (Mikael, you’ll recall, is deeply committed to exposing malfeasances, having been the victim of a trumped up legal case himself).
At the same time, Mikael’s staff members, including his lover Erika (Lena Endre) are unnerved by threatening emails. Her fluttering and fretting—however reasonable—is here set against Annika’s steadfast litigations and Lisbeth’s steely survival. Even as Mikael purports to understand her fears and desire to retreat, he makes his own decisions about what to publish when, making Erika feel vulnerable and angry (more at him than the not completely unknown men he sees as her proper targets).
As Mikael convinces Lisbeth to work with his sister, so he also agrees to work with representatives of the very system he and Lisbeth have learned to distrust, when he’s solicited by the good cop Monica (Mirja Turestedt). Their earnest, sometimes wary and always intense conversations are set alongside the movie’s primary source of action, Lisbeth’s lumbering half brother Niedermann (Micke Spreitz). Unable to feel pain and quick to maim and kill even the most casual acquaintance, Niedermann is again the Ur-Bad Man, hulking and heartless. He’s so bad that even other bad guys want to punish him, and so his mission to kill his sister (held over from the last film) takes on a curiously antic aspect: committing varieties of mayhem on the road, he pursues her as he is also pursued.
This makes for a mightily episodic structure, as the film cuts from the road to the hospital to the office where Mikael meets with the police, and then again to a series of rooms where Teleborian and his equally old and unsightly colleagues (designated the Section by Mikael’s team) meet to plot that most troubling girl’s demise (all apparently selected from a casting director’s Book of Villains). To underline her status as troubling, Lisbeth appears in court wearing a fierce Mohawk and Punk 101 gear. Apparently, this get-up signifies her truthfulness, set against allegations by the prosecution (and Teleborian) that she’s delusional. Again.
Silent and seething, Lisbeth also reminds you that, as much as the “Girl Who” series has railed against her tormentors for producing this damaged, angry victim-cum-avenger, it has also repeatedly sensationalized their multiple and ongoing abuses of her. The strategy has been increasingly exploitative and tedious. Who knows? Maybe the series is producing more angry girls as they see it.