The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the third and final film adaptation of a series of novels by the late Steig Larsson. Very recently (two days ago), I watched The Girl Who Played With Fire, and felt somewhat disappointed by the sketchy nature of “Milennium #2” (referring to the magazine edited by one of the series’ protagonists). Hornet’s Nest is far more entertaining than its predecessor, but I will now admit watching both Dragon Tattoo and Fire was a necessary prerequisite. Not only would the plot be largely incomprehensible if you watched #3 “cold,” but you will miss the nuances of the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth.
Lisbeth herself will be perceived differently by those who didn’t see both of the two previous pictures (despite the flashbacks from Dragon Tattoo and Fire included in the final film): she was fascinating in those movies, but information crucial to understanding her actions and attitudes is finally revealed in Hornet’s Nest, and if you don’t have the background provided by #1 and #2, you won’t fully appreciate this.
On principle, I’m not fond of the concept that feature films in a series cannot be watched independently, it seems a bit of cheat for audiences—why should we be required to have seen a previous movie to enjoy this one? However, in the case of Dragon Tattoo-Fire-Hornet’s Nest, we are talking about three parts of a conceptual trilogy, and not just “different films with the same characters in different plots,” so if you understand that from the beginning, things will work out alright for you :)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, “Milennium #1,” was a self-contained film with narrative closure, but to fully enjoy the second and third films in the series requires a considerable investment of time (each film runs well over 2 hours—the movies have also been re-edited into an even longer television mini-series in Sweden) and careful planning by a viewer. If you are going to watch these films, you must see them in order. Trust me on this.
Hornet’s Nest picks up with footage from the finale of Fire: Lisbeth, gravely wounded, is taken to hospital after a violent confrontation with her father Zalachenko and sinister half-brother Niedermann. Learning she’s to be charged with attempted murder—not on the merits of the case, which appears to clearly be self-defense, but for rather vague political reasons—Mikael, estranged from Lisbeth during Fire, steps in to defend her the only way he can: by writing an exposé of the brutal treatment she’s experienced during her life at the hands of governmental agencies and their corrupt minions. This exposes Mikael and the staff at “Milennium” magazine to threats and, later, to mortal danger. Mikael also convinces his sister Annika to serve as Lisbeth’s lawyer.
One complaint I had about Fire was the lack of compelling characters other than the two protagonists—at least, any who had significant roles—and Hornet’s Nest makes up for this in spades. In addition to Mikael and Lisbeth (both undergoing severe emotional and physical stress over the course of the film), “Milennium” publisher Erika, Annika, sinister Dr. Teleborian, monstruous Niedermann, and other characters—old and new—are all given significant footage. Even supporting characters such as the doctor who cares for Lisbeth, some sympathetic and unsympathetic police agents, and other people who figure in the labyrinthine plot in some way are all given personalities.
Aficionados of the series will appreciate the further delineation of the characters of Lisbeth and Mikael. As in Fire, they share little time together on screen: their only real face-to-face conversation occurs in the film’s final scene and is bittersweet, to say the least. Lisbeth Salander is a wounded soul who refuses to let down her guard or ask for favours, yet for most of this film she’s forced to be reliant on others—she’s in hospital, then prison, then on trial—a frustrating situation for someone so independent. She doesn’t know how to respond to those who try to help her—her doctor, Annika, Mikael, hacker Plague—treating her friends to the same stoic façade she presents to her enemies such as the prosecuting attorney, psychiatrist Teleborian, etc.
At times her self-composure slips, just a bit—when her doctor allows her to have a pizza, gives her a book to read in prison, when she hears her hated father is dead—but most of the time Lisbeth hides within a hard shell of her own making. She defiantly dresses in full punk regalia for her trial, coolly and contemptuously replies to the prosecution’s questions, and afterwards has Annika drop her off in the middle of the city rather than meet the staff of “Milennium” who put themselves in danger for her sake (as Annika drives off, we see Lisbeth’s shell crack ever so slightly, as she realises she’s alone once more, and brushes away a tear).
Mikael, on the other hand, is surrounded by friends, co-workers, and associates. His relationship with Erika, explored briefly in Fire, is clearly more than that of publisher-to-editor. Erika knows Mikael loves Lisbeth, though exactly what kind of love is left open: after their brief physical and “professional” relationship in Dragon Tattoo, Mikael and Lisbeth did not meet until the end of Fire—and she was semi-conscious due to her wounds—yet he continues to care for her and risks his own life more than once for her sake. At the same time, it should be noted his investigation to clear Lisbeth does have the added benefit of providing a sensational exposé for his magazine, not an inconsequential consideration. Even when, towards the end of the film, Mikael goes against Erika’s wishes and publishes “Milennium” on the eve of Lisbeth’s trial, the possibility of dual reasons for his actions persists.
The “romance” between Mikael and Lisbeth is dysfunctional—it was even in the first movie, but at least there they saw each other face-to-face—and perhaps for that reason it is poignant and affecting. Lisbeth can’t accept love, and Mikael is too tentative to press his case.
The interpersonal relationships in Hornet’s Nest are fascinating and if some sub-plots introduced in the series are forgotten or given short shrift, it doesn’t really seem to matter. We are caught up in Lisbeth’s story, intrigued by the political double-dealing and criminal enterprises, thrilled by the suspense and action.
I can’t objectively rate The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest as a single, stand-alone film, since my perceptions of each entry are coloured by the knowledge of the way they fit into the unified whole.
Dragon Tattoo was quite good, a fascinating if essentially conventional “detective” film (albeit with amateur detectives) that introduced us to Lisbeth and Mikael, and also benefited from a genuine mystery plot and a strong underlying theme (the widespread abuse of women, in many forms). The Girl Who Played With Fire was a let-down, yet it was a vital link in the series, shifting the focus from a specific criminal activity (the “white slave” aspect was merely an excuse to get the ball rolling) to Lisbeth’s life story (though one could surmise she is a surrogate for all abused women or indeed, anyone who has been victimised by the “system”). The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest revolves around Lisbeth, yet this time the villains and the heroes are more numerous, the characterisations of the supporting players are richer, and the plot is even more complex and yet is wrapped up fairly neatly at the conclusion.
So? If you have already seen the first two films in the series, I don’t have to recommend The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest to you, I’m certain you’ve already made plans to see it. All I’ll say is, you won’t be disappointed.
If you haven’t seen either of the first two pictures, then watch them first, before you see Hornet’s Nest. Once you do, you’ll realise Hornet’s Nest is an exceedingly fine culmination to an excellent series of films.