It gets hard to defend Hollywood—and why would you try, really?—when they seem to reinforce the worst ideas people have. Like cowardice and completely paucity of original ideas.
I mean, when people talk about all the sequels and movies derived from other sources these days, it’s easy to note that this has always been the case. Yeah, we have four Resident Evil movies but there were ten Ma & Pa Kettle flicks. Seven—or was it eight?—Saws? Try sixteen movies in the Andy Hardy series. There were nearly thirty Charlie Chan flicks, I think.
Point is, film has always been a derivative medium.
And I wanted to say, “Well, hey, this could be a good example of Hollywood making a foreign movie their own, with David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) at the helm." And there’s no doubt this is a Fincher film. Plenty of sickly yellow and greenish lighting, shadowed faces, unusual camera dollying.
Still, it seemed like a sort of pointless exercise. It’s actually more lurid than the original (though not enough to warrant the pissy review over at Big Hollywood) but this seems less effective because it’s such a slick product. Complete with Macs, Coca-Cola and MacDonald’s Happy Meals.
There were a few things I liked better than the Swedish original: The Swedish movie is harder to follow. Not just because it’s Swedish but because the sprawling story involves over a dozen characters, and clue-gathering that doesn’t really engage you in the mystery per se but that you feel like you have to keep track of to follow the story. As a result, when you finally learn the whole story, it’s easy to be confused about who was who.
This version is a bit more careful—and longer—about making sure we know who the important characters are. On the good side, that means when Lisbeth meets with her guardian (social worker) we know who he is and why he’s so important, and also gives us an insight into her personality.
On the bad side, the interaction with the bad guy is such a cliché of American cinema, that it’s impossible to be surprised by the reveal, even if you’ve never seen the original films. In fact, even if you never seen any film ever.
There’s another funny change. At one point, Lisbeth steals a whole bunch of money with her 1337 hacker skillz. I sometimes roll my eyes at that, you know, because I have some idea of the challenge involved and the movies make it seem like magic. (The American movie does this when Lisbeth reads Mikael’s encrypted e-mail like it was nothing. But that actually makes sense to the degree that she’s been watching his machine for some time.)
So, the American movie actually shows theft. In extensive detail. And I just wanted it to end. In retrospect, it was necessary for the number one change they made which I’ll discuss in a bit.
The Boy and I thought it was okay. Way too long (at over 2.5 hours). The acting is good, of course. I warmed up to Rooney Mara. Daniel Craig is probably right where they wanted him to be (more on that in a bit, too). Chris Plummer—I’m just glad to see him going strong, as strong as ever, really, and getting such good roles in his 80s. Stellan Skarsgaard (apply diacriticals as needed), fresh from his flamboyant role in Melancholia—he’s kinda subdued here.
You could do worse, that is, if you don’t mind the squalid. (Though Melancholia is pretty squalid, too.) It’s better if you haven’t seen the original. My mom hasn’t, but she had read the book, and said that it was pretty faithful to the book, without expressing enthusiasm for same.
Now I want to talk about the major change from the Swedish movies, which necessarily contains SPOILERS! In a very real way, these movies are primarily interesting because of the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael, so do not read on if you don’t want to be spoiled.
So, the Swedish movies feature Blomkvist, who’s a good guy, and Lisbeth, who’s more of an anti-hero. Lisbeth is seriously damaged—the backstory of which forms the basis for the second and third movies, and which is no trivial matter.
In the original, at one point, Lisbeth basically uses Mikael for sex. It’s a cold, mechanical and bizarre interaction, her on top until she’s done, after which she leaves the room, and leaves Blomkvist bewildered.
This is their relationship in a nutshell. Mutually beneficial, but strained. Lisbeth does, slowly, come to trust him, to a degree. But at no point do you get the idea that we’re in for some sort of odd-couple detective TV show pilot, like "Tatts and the Kvist” or whatever. (I guess Larson wrote a fourth book where they fight crime in Canada, though, so the old commie might have been open to that.)
Point is, all (Swedish actor’s) Nyqvist’s Blomkvist really has going for him is his integrity. He’s not an action hero. Lisbeth has to save him. And while he saves her in the second movie, it’s after all the action is over.
He’s just beta.
This makes a whole lotta sense with Lisbeth’s character. She’s been abused badly by men for a long time. The actual title of the book (and I think the Swedish movie) is Men Who Hate Women. Blomkvist’s laid back attitude is about the only way Lisbeth can trust a guy.
So, in the American movie? Lisbeth is sort of nurturing Blomkvist after he gets injured. She’s more timid in approaching him for sex. They interact. She mounts him. Then? He flips her over to be on top.
Pardon my graphicness here, but while the sex is explicit, it’s not gratuitous. It’s an important part of the character development. And they botched it here.
Afterwards? They cuddle.
So, after years and years of abuse, all she needed was the passing fancy of a sufficiently handsome guy, I guess.
Worse still? The original had Lisbeth vanishing at the end, and striking at Blomkvist’s enemy, Vanager. (This was the part drawn out in the American movie.) And she’s in love with Blomkvist. And he breaks her heart by not knowing about it.
Now, it’s not fair to bash this aspect of the American movie on the basis of how it compares to the Swedish movie. I mean, it’s fine to have a preference, but the American producers can draw the characters however they feel. (I think it fails to ring true to the extent that they didn’t really change the other details of Lisbeth’s story.)
But it feels like pandering. I was a little sick of Blomkvist’s wimpiness by the end of the trilogy, I admit, but however much Craig dials it down, he’s still Daniel “James Bond/Cowboys and Aliens” Craig.
This probably some focus testing BS, like what ruined The Lord of the Rings. We can only have one kind of story, one kind of relationship in a film. Bleah.
Another weird change: In the Swedish movie, Lisbeth is confronting the villain and has a chance to save his life. She doesn’t. When she tells Mikael, he’s not down with that. He doesn’t treat her badly over it but he disapproves.
In the American version she asks for permission to kill him—and then he dies without her getting the chance to.
Meh. Maybe they wouldn’t detract from your experience if you hadn’t seen the original. (Though my mom said the movie was true to the book, not in an especially favorable way though.)
Did I mention it’s over two-and-a-half hours long?