As "Played with Fire" opens, crusading publisher Blomkvist hasn't seen Salander for a year. (The first film ended with hints -- a glimpse of her exiting an expensive car, dressed with uncharacteristic elegance, at some clearly exclusive tropical resort -- though this new film neglects her sojourn there, which occupies a significant section of the novel, cutting to the chase of her Stockholm return.) Instead a breaking story about a sex-trafficking ring occupies Blomkvist, until the young couple who've researched that turn up executed and the police blame Salander. Sure that she'll contact him, he sets about solving the murders and her connection, as his "Millennium" editorial staff sets about finishing and publishing the story. Along the way -- the reason for that cross-country dash -- Salander finds her long-lost father (Georgi Staykov), determined to finish with an axe what she started as a child with a match and a gas can.
What carries this film is the intriguing, increasingly layered and unconventional relationship between Blomkvist and Salander(in turn carried by wonderful lead performances -- these seem impervious to the second director's shortcomings and I particularly recommend Rapace's extended scene of reunion with her father). In a story about how we know the truth about anyone else, it's worth thinking about how they have come to utterly trust one another. They don't physically share a single scene until the end, but the film extends their virtual relationship with convincing immediacy; in one scene Salander turns off a door alarm with three seconds to go -- watching Blomkvist remotely on a security camera -- from the other side of Sweden. And amidst much deeply sordid behavior, Blomkvist isn't the only good man here; there's the young free-lancer Dag, Salander's old advocate Holger Palmgren (Per Oscarsson, from the 1966 classic "Hunger"), and a promising cop named Bublanski. I'm more than ready to see where #3 goes. Don't forget that Salander's father isn't finished off yet, there's that half-brother, didn't the novel mention a twin sister somewhere?