The final film installment of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series - at least until director David Fincher's version with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara hits theaters at the end of 2011 - is, in some ways, better than its book.
It's kinder, at least, to the American fan, leaner and less confusing than Larsson's whopping, 576-page novel, which featured a staggering number of characters (many with confusing Swedish names) and occasionally bogged down in tedious historic detail.
The film version of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, however, bears no such burdens. It's as lithe and compelling as its heroine Lisbeth Salander although, fortunately, not half so dangerous. Director Daniel Alfredson, who was also at the helm for The Girl Who Played With Fire, keeps the story moving and deftly overcomes what could have been a devastating obstacle: the fact that its best character, punked-out computer hacker Salander, spends much of the running time trapped in a hospital bed.
Hornet's Nest picks up exactly where Fire left off: in the aftermath of a deadly battle. A helicopter transports battered and bloody Salander (the terrific Noomi Rapace) to the nearest hospital. Next to her lies the equally damaged Soviet defector Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), the murderous father who ordered her shot and buried alive. Despite the bullet lodged in her head, Salander dug her way out and clobbered him with an ax. And you thought the Greeks had a monopoly on family drama.
Meanwhile, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) struggles to uncover proof of a government conspiracy that sent the then 12-year-old Salander to a psychiatric hospital in order to cover up Zalachenko's existence. With the help of his editor/lover Erika Berger (Lena Endre), Blomkvist sets out to reveal the nefarious scheme in a Millennium magazine story in time for Salander's trial for attempted murder. But the plotters have plans to stop him. Meanwhile, the homicidal blond giant Niedermann (Micke Spreitz), Salander's half-brother, has escaped police pursuit and seems to be killing his way across Sweden.
The nature of Hornet's Nest requires a certain amount of talkiness, but new characters -particularly Annika Hallin as Blomkvist's sister, whom he enlists as an attorney for Salander - develop and register quickly, and the straightforward script keeps the convoluted plot easy to follow. The final courtroom scene is immensely satisfying – we know the ammunition Salander's lawyer has in her arsenal, and it's a time bomb - as is Salander's final confrontation with her half-brother.
Her reunion with Blomkvist may be somewhat less than satisfying, but one can only blame fate. Larsson planned a 10-book series but died after writing only three novels about this fascinating, prickly but devoted friendship. We're left to imagine what might have been.