Dir. Daniel Alfredson
(2010, R, 129 min)
★ ★ ½

I streamed The Girl Who Played with Fire through Netflix, and as soon as the credits started rolling I opened a new tab in Google Chrome to research the film on Wikipedia. I needed a summary of the plot.

I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first film based on Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Millennium novels, back in May, and some of its details are a fuzzy memory, but that’s not the problem here. Played with Fire follows a mostly self-contained storyline, with some callbacks to the original film, but not so many that familiarity with the first film is necessary to understand the plot. A high-speed internet connection, however, might be advantageous.

Michael Nyqvist, as Michael Blomkvist

Now I understand it. Well enough, anyway. It tries to balance a murder mystery with an origin story about how goth-punk investigator Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) became the formidable, enigmatic woman she is. It’s not an overly complicated story, but its multiple investigations and investigators are juggled awkwardly, until I wasn’t sure exactly what track I was following, or with who, or where to.

It begins with a young reporter named Dag Svensson (Hans Christian Thulin), who has uncovered a vast sex-trafficking conspiracy that implicates corrupt police officers, politicians, and judges. He pitches the story to Millennium, the magazine run by Michael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), whom Lisbeth aided in the previous film. Dag only needs to tie up loose ends, but he’s murdered before he can finish. Lisbeth’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon for reasons made known to the audience but not the police, and she must clear her name.

Lisbeth conducts her investigation while hiding from authorities, so this time around she doesn’t share any scenes with Blomkvist until very late, communicating instead by periodically hacking into his hard drive. The film cuts between them as they follow a lot of the same clues to a lot of the same conclusions and unearth secrets from her past. And while they search, a hulking sociopath named Niedermann (Mikael Spreitz) searches for Lisbeth. It starts to get pretty far afield from the sex-trafficking storyline, but I’m pretty sure all the questions have the same answer.

I liked the mystery from the first film, but I liked the characters more. This time the mystery is less interesting and we get less character detail. Blomkvist is still doggedly determined. Lisbeth is still tough as nails; though the story involves her history, it doesn’t reveal any new dimensions to her personality. The film isn’t especially good or bad. It’s passable, well-made, and features characters I still like. Faint praise for a film that is faintly praiseworthy. No more, no less.