The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Daniel Alfredson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest shares many of the same flaws as the Millenium trilogy’s previous installment and then some, leading to a dull thud of a conclusion.  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest has little else on its mind except tying up loose ends and concluding a long gestating conspiracy story being spearheaded by some of the most inept shadowy government agents I have ever seen.  Whatever suspense or danger that might have pervaded previous installments is completely lacking here as Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) recovers from her injuries from the end of the first film and is on trial for her attempted murder of her father.

The plot mechanics of the film befuddle me but much of that is most likely a lacking in understand of the Swedish judicial system.  In either case, the story is dull and lacks any kind of suspense whatsoever.  In fact, taking this film and the previous one put together, one could say this would be the trial portion of a Swedish “Law and Order” remake.  After the events of the second film, Salander is recuperating while also being held under guard, charged for the attempted murder of her father who, for some reason or another (again, going to have to ask the Swedes on this one), is recuperating at the same hospital.  Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) takes it upon himself to use his magazine to publicly defend Salander and reveal all the dirty, corrupt practices of shady old white men who have kept her imprisoned and incapacitated for her entire adult life.

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The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second installment in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, ditches Niels Arden Oplev, the director of the first installment in the Swedish series, for Daniel Alfredson and while the story is a marked improvement over the drab procedural of the original, Alfredson also trades in some cinematic import for a more TV movie feel.  While the story takes up more personal stakes and allows the viewer to enter the head space of Lisbeth Salander, the film’s central heroine, there’s also a lot more needless fat to the story and the kind of sheen that’s more evident on network television.  All of the gritty details are left to the story while the film takes a cleaner shine that betrays its gritty details.

A year has passed since the events of the first film and Lisbeth has been living abroad while Mikael Blomkvist is working with a new reporter at his Millenium Magazine hoping to expose a sex trafficking ring.  When Lisbeth returns to Stockholm and the young reporter and his girlfriend end up dead, with Lisbeth’s fingerprints on the gun, our two estranged heroes delve into the seedy underground each, separately, trying to prove the young hacker’s innocence.  As opposed to the first film which introduced her, this film reveals much of the background and history of its central character and she thusly feels more of an essential character.  In the first film, it felt like Lisbeth was little more than a sidekick character to Blomkvist within her own franchise but she takes center stage here revealing interesting details about her past and informing and playing off of events that felt like perfunctory appendages in the first film.

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Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Through sheer force of will, Tom Cruise has made the Mission Impossible franchise a series worth following.  Starting off well, if not superlatively, with the first Brian De Palma helmed film, the series took a huge nosedive with John Woo’s woefully overcooked, convoluted follow up.  However, it wasn’t until J.J. Abrams took the reins of the franchise with the third installment that the series really felt vital and exciting.  I was a great fan of the third film because it took its cues from the first film in not devoting so much time to the “MacGuffin” providing a fleet footed, excitingly paced action film.  The latest in the series, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, continues along that thread showcasing amazing thrills and visuals without trying to outthink the audience.

The film leaves any opportunities to be clever to its action sequences and leaves the story to be as simple as it can be.  If anything, the story feels a bit too simple at times leaving the villain of the story, played by Michael Nyqvist, with little to do.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman was given ample time to chew the scenery and let himself go, giving an entertainingly villainous performance.  Here, Nyqvist is merely a prop for our hero to beat on as we come to the exciting conclusion.  The fact that I can barely recall if he was given a name in the movie shows how little the film actually cared about what he was doing with nuclear arms codes.

It’s the action sequences and exciting capers that entertain and thrill here.  Brad Bird, making his live action feature debut here, makes an effortless transition from the world of animation to live action giving the film a lively visual flourish.  The rules of action in animation are as true in live action and Bird takes those to heart.  He keeps the film in constant motion from one exciting set piece to the next.

Much has already been written about the eye popping scene of Cruise scaling the tallest man made structure in the world but the breathtaking scale of it is only enhanced when watched in IMAX.  If given the chance, do not hesitate to see the film in this format.  In a way that 3D just simply cannot live up to, the IMAX format truly enhances the experience, engulfing the viewer in the scale and excitement of the action.  With 3D there is always that barrier where the glasses live but with IMAX, I can imagine some viewers getting a slight case of vertigo as Cruise scales that monolith in Dubai.

Another element that the film delivers on that Abrams started with the previous film but just did not go far enough with, was making the it more of a team picture.  While Cruise is still most definitely the star, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Paula Patton are more than capable of holding their end of the movie, giving Cruise ample time to rest up.  Ideally, the Mission Impossible films should act as heist films giving each player their proper due and role in the game and Ghost Protocol comes closest to that mark.

While the characters themselves are slightly undercooked, the performances keep in tone with the film.  Light and fun is the name of the game here and the performances reflect that.  Ably delivered snarky lines save an otherwise clichéd and overwrought script where character back story is concerned.  There is a certain mystery held about the background of Renner’s character and once revealed, it becomes a bit laughable and silly.  Pegg is expert at the off the cuff wit and delivers on that front.  Patton gets to look beautiful and angry at the same time throughout but she’s given a few good scenes to work with but is otherwise a utility player through the entire enterprise.  It’s been rumored that Renner’s casting is meant for him to be groomed to replace Cruise on the franchise, but this installment gives little indication of that since Cruise still gets all the choice action beats.  It may be more of an ensemble picture this time when it comes to the capers but it’s still a Tom Cruise movie.

Brad Bird has made an able transition to the live action realm with this picture.  While absent is the heart and soul of the usual Pixar picture that Bird is accustomed to, Ghost Protocol is a lively and fun picture that begs to be seen in the epic sized scale of IMAX.  The film is more alive and fun than all three Transformers pictures combined.  Bird keeps tongue firmly in cheek and never lets things get too serious and maudlin for their own good.