"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest"

Last April Nat Tobin brought us the first of the Swedish films adapted from Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy novels, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and in August the second installment duly arrived, "The Girl Who Played with Fire." There was a comfortable year's gap in the narrative between the end of the first and the beginning of the second, a feeling that life went on for crusading journalist and magazine publisher Michael Blomkvist (Michael Nyquist), even as the mysterious Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) herself had repaired to some exclusive tropical isle to gather her own forces too.

No such breather this time. "Played with Fire" ends as a medical helicopter carries Salander, with multiple gunshot wounds including one in the head, grimy from her father's effort to bury her alive, off to a hospital. A second helicopter bears that father, Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), also barely alive thanks to the axe she planted in his head. So exhausting and chaotic in the final harrowing sequence that I found myself needing to sort out exactly who was dead and who was still, though barely, alive.

As the third installment begins, those medical helicopters are just arriving at the hospital, and it's a tribute to the power of this story and these characters that the audience's intervening three months - as we have gone back to our lives between films - seem to vanish as we settle into our seats. Like the previous two installments, "Kicked the Hornet's Nest" is a long movie, almost two and a half hours, and again the time flies past. I even found myself sitting forward in my seat a good deal of the time. Now be honest: how often in a movie theatre are you really on the edge of your seat?

As with any good procedural-action thriller hybrid, trying to summarize the plot's various twists and turns in a paragraph or so is folly. Again Salander is framed for murder; again Blomkvist sets out to prove her innocence; again the forces of evil employ a frightening array of subterfuge, blackmail, intimidation and brute force, and a truly chill mastery of apparently passive public institutions.

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