The Girl Who Played with Fire | Mystery/Action | rated R (A,L,N,S,V,RP) | starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist | 2:09 mins | in Sweedish with English subtitles

Millennium Magazine’s own controversial muck-raking journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) gets a tip from their latest hire investigating a sex slave trading ring. That’s just the kind of mysogynistic crime against women to bring Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) out of the woodwork and back to investigate. But when Lisbeth is framed for triple murder she goes on the run, meanwhile Mikael delves into her mysterious past to find out who the girl with the dragon tattoo is.

The Girl Who Played with Fire is a terrific sequel that answers every question and complaint that I had at the end of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Having not read Stieg Larsson’s best-selling trilogy, I felt removed from the phenomenon by Dragon Tattoo as the first movie centered more on a TV-drama level self-contained mystery and pushed these intriguing characters to the sidelines. I was delighted to realize that it is in no way a stand-alone movie, but a true part 2 continuation that makes Dragon Tattoo required viewing.  The first film is very good, but Fire is a satisfying payoff rewarding a patient set-up.

Dragon Tattoo is a lush, leisurely paced procedural mystery. Played with Fire is a very different animal. A grittier electrified live-wire of a movie with a few solid action set pieces and a revenge scenario almost as good as the one Lisbeth dishes out in the first film. While the hacker and femenist vigilante still keeps her armor up and herself at arm’s length, Fire is all about Lisbeth and Rapace is terrific now completely living in the role. The movie delves into her character one shocking revelation at a time.

What it does do, it does well, but all is not perfect in the Swedish adaptation. Things are brought up and dropped, leaving huge holes in the plot making for an unnecessarily plodding and convoluted story. Notably the sex trade storyline never seems to connect with Lisbeth’s storyline. A great viceral experience, but not exactly a tightly scripted one, the movie quickly ducks away from these several idiosyncracies by saying “look over here” and giving us something more interesting to focus on: who is Lisbeth Salander and where did she come from?

And let’s be honest, that’s why we’re here. On that level the movie is fantastic. These movies are about Lisbeth and not ultimately the self-contained mysteries in them. What’s great about Fire is that the central mystery is Lisbeth’s character study. Methodically unfolding her life gradually piece by shocking piece, giving her a story that’s roots stretch back to the first film and whose journey is a bloody, firey, spiked one fully justifying her jaded, non-tolerance methodology. Rapace brings her to life as a commanding, potentially classic, neo-heroine. Also treated right is the platonic bond betweek Mikael and Lisbeth, which is strong even though they spend pretty much the entire film apart.

Audiences might not like that The Girl Who Played with Fire isn’t as smooth and polished and atmospherically entrenching as the first film was. I feel while that worked well for the first film, the change of pace works well for this one. I liked the messy, chaotic, scrappy, fight for survival of Fire. The mysogyny has been toned down a bit and the characters have been well rounded out. Fire ends on a very strong open-ended note, a cliffhanger that takes us directly into The Girl Who Kicked the Honet’s Nest. The series as a whole has been elevated. Now I’m a little more invested in this odd, different, but well done, versatile, increasingly lovable and wonderfully uncompromising series. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good movie mystery series and the plight of Lisbeth Salander fits the bill very well.