Even as America races to create our own film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, one thing is already evident: We will never find an actress to play Lisbeth Salander who is as good as the actress in the Swedish adaptations, Noomi Rapace. Rapace's Salander is a brilliant, once-in-a- lifetime performance: She's tough, smart, damaged, sexual, and vulnerable all at once, and it never feels like acting. Rapace was far and away the best thing about the first film in the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and she carries the whole of the second film, The Girl Who Played with Fire. If only the rest of Fire had the same energy as the first.
Fire begins one year after Tattoo: Salander has returned to Sweden to take care of some business, and her crime-fighting journalist friend, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, as patient and solid as in the first film), has gotten himself into a mess involving a conspiracy and a dead reporter. There are a couple of villains who couldn't be more satisfyingly evil (a super-strong Aryan gorilla-man, especially, wouldn't seem out of place in a James Bond movie) and layers of intrigue that keep Blomkvist and Salander running around at a brisk pace for most of the run time.
The movie has some of the same problems as the book—it is very much a second entry in a trilogy, less of a narrative and more of a bridge. Fire also feels more claustrophobic than the first film, which had the beautiful Swedish countryside to investigate. It's certainly not an Empire Strikes Back situation—Fire can't escape a tired once-more-unto-the-breach-dear-friends kind of feeling—but it makes the first film feel even more accomplished in comparison, and it whets the appetite for October's third and final film.