This past springs surprise art-house smash The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo didnt do much for me, but I can understand its appeal. Based on the first book of Swede Stieg Larssons bestselling Millenium trilogy, the film spiced up hoary CBS primetime procedural tropes with a dash of tawdry transgression and chic exoticism. It was like an episode of Cold Case, but with subtitles, facial piercings and rape.

Michael Nyquivist starred as disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, whos killing time after losing a libel suit by investigating a decades-old murder and earning the unlikely affections of Noomi Rapaces Lisbeth Salander, the titular tattooed lady and a camera subject of opaque fascination. Playing a Suicide Girls fantasy come to life with conveniently peerless computer hacking chops and some nifty self-defense skills involving a dildo, Rapace wisely kept the character concealed from the audience for most of the movies running time.

Dragon Tattoos plot is the sort of absurdity that will get laughed off the screen when everybody has to say all this crap out loud in English in the inevitable remake. But there was something fetching about the oddball chemistry between Nyquivist and Rapace and their halting progression from fuck-buddies to sidekicks.

The Girl Who Played With Fire, alas, is one of those sad sequels that fail to communicate why anyone mightve enjoyed the original. Daniel Alfredson takes over directing chores from Neils Arden Opev, but the transition is a smooth one aesthetically, as the icky after-hours aura of sexual assault still pervades every frame.

We begin with Rapaces Lisbeth framed for the murder of her perverted legal guardian/tormentor from the previous picture, a sick fellow who ended up on the receiving end of aforementioned sex-toy self-defense. Shes also tied to the gangland execution of two investigative journalists working for Blomkvists Millenium magazine, young crusaders seeking to blow the lid off of a human-trafficking ring confusingly enough by exposing the johns, but not the traffickers. Lisbeths been hiding out in the Caribbean for a year, having lurid nightmares about her epic history of abuse while avoiding contact with true love Blomkvistwho seems to have gotten over the heartbreak just fine by banging his longtime (married, but polyamorous) editor.

But, soon enough, hes the only one who believes in Lisbeths innocence, and sets about having long, drawn-out conversations with shady older Swedish fellows that somehow always circle back around to the subject of forcible penetration.

The first, and most obvious, problem with The Girl Who Played With Fire is that Lisbeth knows who the culprit is from the get-go, yet from her all-powerful remote desktop only sends Blomkvist the sketchiest of clues and vaguest of hints for no discernable reason other than to drag this story out to feature length. The movie would be half an hour long if shed just pick up the goddamn phone and answer a question or two.

More cripplingly, the film commits the Jewel Of The Nile sequel sin of keeping the two characters we came here to see apart for the entire running time. Meager as Dragon Tattoos pleasures were, the two leads worked well together. Not a single word is exchanged between them in The Girl Who Played With Fire (occasional emails just dont cut it).

Finally, the movie overexplains Lisbeth Salander, diminishing her mysterious appeal. (SPOILER: Not for nothing does she share initials with a certain Skywalker.) The cryptic flashbacks and elliptical traumatic references that haunted Rapaces performance in the first film now receive full Freudian flesh-outs, with a host of new male aggressors just begging to get tasered in the nuts. (Shes at least feisty enough to oblige.) The curse of backstory makes The Girl Who Played With Fire feel like just another shitty Hollywood prequel, even though it nominally takes place after the first film.

Grade: C-

Director: Daniel Alfredson

Running time: 129 minutes

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