It's not too harsh, I hope, to refer to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest as the last and least of the film adaptations of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.
The first film introduced two terrific and damaged characters and a realistic mystery. The second, The Girl Who Played With Fire, upped the action and finished with an emotional payoff that bettered even the finale of Dragon Tattoo. Hornet's Nest, however, covers familiar ground and is largely set in a courtroom. Only our investment in these characters and in wholly unraveling the mystery of Lisbeth Salander's awful past keep it compelling.
Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) is recovering from the injuries she suffered trying to avenge herself on her father, the vile Russian spy whom Swedish government old-timers remain determined to protect, no matter what he has done to his punk anti-social hacker daughter.
Now she's facing prison time. Sullen and seething, she's not speaking to lawyers or those sent to assess her mental fitness for trial. Rapace's performance is internal, as in her curt way of inhaling "No" to every question lawyers, judges and others hurl at her. With or without her help, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is determined to publish a story that will prove her innocence and blow the lid off a conspiracy and national scandal.
We get a glimpse of those carrying on Lisbeth's persecution and the lengths to which they'll go to preserve their past.
More old men with ugly secrets are tracked down and interviewed, Mikael's magazine staff is threatened, and massive blond half-brother/monster (Micke Spreitz) stomps through Sweden, dodging cops and hunting Lisbeth.
The film provides an intriguing peek into Swedish justice (a courtroom closed on "national security" grounds). And as we revisit the horrors of the earlier films and learn more about what's been done to Lisbeth, her poker-faced pose (she dons full punk leather for her trial) draws us in and makes us wonder what this brilliant, brittle loner is plotting.
Director Daniel Alfredson, who also made The Girl Who Played With Fire, maintains the brisker pace of that film even as he delays the third-act payoffs we can see coming. Hornet's Nest doesn't have the emotional ending of the previous films. But this mismatched "couple" — complementing each other so thoroughly that Mikael enlists his sister as Lisbeth's lawyer — have made, in three long subtitled Swedish thrillers, the most dynamic duo of recent cinema history. Even a slight letdown doesn't spoil that.