Monday, 29 November 2010

'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest' review:

Noomi Rapace is back as that girl with the dragon tattoo and a penchant for playing with fire. This time, apparently, she has developed a taste for kicking hornets' nests. Although those with chronic cnidophobia need not look away for this is a metaphorical nest and, as with her previous adventures, the hornets are sexually violent men in positions of power as opposed to big, angry wasps. 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest' is the concluding part of a series of Swedish-made film adaptations of Stieg Larsson's widely adored Millennium Trilogy novels, which follow the bisexual, ace computer hacker Lisbeth Salander as she attempts to bring to justice the various men who have wronged her - like a goth version the Bride from 'Kill Bill'. As in the previous installments, she is aided by top investigative journalist and full-time man-whore Mikael Blomkvist (Mikael Nyqvist).

Whilst the first two parts of the trilogy worked as more or less standalone episodic detective stories, this final chapter picks up exactly where the second installment left off and heavily references events and characters from the first two films throughout. With Lisbeth spending most of the film either in hospital, in prison or on trial, 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest' is also much less action packed than the previous films. That is not to say that this entry lacks scenes of violence, but it is a far cry from the 18-rated original and, tellingly, the film's most horrific sequence is a scene lifted directly from that first movie, played to a courtroom courtesy of a clandestine recording.

Lisbeth Salander has been through some truly horrible events: beaten up by gangs of armed men; repeatedly raped by her legal guardian; and incarcerated in a mental institution at the age of twelve as the result of a shady government conspiracy. Yet she is still a manifestly unlikeable creation. She is a charmless psychopath and when she is forced to defend herself against charges that she is mentally unstable it is hard not to feel like her despicable, paedophile assailants at least have a bit of a point - although their reasons for making it are obviously not on the level. Again, like Thurman's Bride character, Lisbeth is hellbent on bloody, callous revenge in a film which thinks old testament "eye for an eye" justice is for wishy-washy Guardian readers. It is true that the film always totally convinces you that these balding, sinister Vince Cable-alikes deserve every bit of what Lisbeth gives them, but therein is the reason I hate these films so much.

Lisbeth's violent, sociopathic actions are understandable: after all they are being committed by a troubled individual who has received constant abuse at the hands of these wicked individuals. But these villains aren't human beings: they are monsters. Again, much like Tarantino's 'Kill Bill' films, as well as the likes of 'Sin City' and 'Death Wish', these films use sexual violence as a pretext for enabling us to indulge in guilt-free revenge fantasies that play to the very worst of our nature. I'm not excusing myself here. I too get that sense of vitriol when I get to see the rapist, paedophile, Nazi man get seven shades of shit kicked out of him: but its not a feeling I choose to nurture. Not to mention there is something very contrived and cynical about the way we are manipulated in films like these to feel so reactionary as unambiguous hate figures are offered to us just as the Aztecs offered still-beating human hearts to their gods. There is nothing interesting about straight-up monsters as characters either. Which is why all the best actual monsters are given human characteristics and their own set of internal conflicts (Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, Beauty and the Beast). The baddies here are pure evil and as such they are totally boring.

I will say this for 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest': Noomi Rapace again completely disappears into the role of Salander, physically and emotionally transforming herself. The films best moment is when she walks into the courtroom to defend herself against charges of mental incompetence dressed in some sort of black leather, chainmail garb and sporting a huge mohican. This is the character giving the finger to the trial, refusing to back down on who she is just to conform and make things easy. It is also a gesture of supreme confidence. She is telling her persecutors that she can do as she likes because she knows she will win. That is where this story is strongest, as (although I'm not her biggest fan) in Lisbeth Salander there is a protagonist unlike any other, even if the dreary world she inhabits is from generic-revenge-thriller-land.

I have been eagerly awaiting this film for a few months now. Having really disliked the first two movies, I was getting a little sick of seeing that same poster image in cinemas for the third time in the space of a year and longed to put this whole seedy, dour, sadomasochistic enterprise behind me once and for all. Sadly this doesn't mark the end, as David Fincher is now busily helming an American adaptation of the same set of books. Although you can at least be certain that, whatever the American version is like, Fincher's film will feel less like a post-watershed episode of an ITV3 drama and more like a feature film.

'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest' is out now in the UK and is rated '15' by the BBFC.

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