Movie Review: The New “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”

by Jenni Miller

There’s just something about Lisbeth Salander, the brilliant hacker who’s the central character in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Although the author never lived to see his books in print, he might have been amazed at how the world has become obsessed with his rather unique protagonist. Lisbeth is a genius, quite possibly on the autism spectrum, bisexual, heavily body modded, and defiantly self-reliant. She takes swift and brutal vengeance on those who have wronged her or her loved ones, although the understandably cagey woman has few close to her heart. A ward of the state, an abuse survivor, and an avenger with a photographic memory, Salander is definitely not typical bestseller fodder.

News that David Fincher would be remaking at least the first movie adaptation of the trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was met with mixed reactions. Do we really need an English-language remake of a film that’s already an adaptation of a book? Are we too dumb to read subtitles? Isn’t there anything new in Hollywood? But then again, maybe they could be improved upon; maybe the Oscar-winning team of Fincher and writer Steve Zaillian could hone the unwieldy source material into something better. They have so much to choose from; who knows what they could come up with?

As it turns out, the new Dragon Tattoo isn’t hugely different than the old one, and I am still not entirely sure what to make of it almost 24 hours later. While I can’t get it out of my head, I’m not convinced that it was as good as I wanted it to be. It’s very difficult to not compare the original directed by Niels Arden Oplev to this version, and even to the book itself. While it’s impossible to ignore Fincher’s attention to detail or how gruesomely perfect the material is for the Se7en director, I can’t help but puzzle over the new Lisbeth and what, exactly, this film is lacking that doesn’t make it Fincher-level great.

Daniel Craig is fine as Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist that hires Lisbeth to investigate a decades-old crime and becomes her sort-of friend and lover. The score by Atticus Finch and Trent Reznor, who won an Oscar for their work on Fincher’s film The Social Network, is excellent and will absolutely get them another nomination and possibly a win. Even the cover of “Immigrant Song” by Karen O. and Trent Reznor is awesome. The movie has a faster pace than Oplev’s, although it still clocks in at over two and a half hours; it’s got a sense of humor, too. (You will never hear Enya the same way again.) But I can’t figure out how I feel about Lisbeth — not just how Rooney Mara portrays her but how Lisbeth herself is written differently She’s softer and more open in some ways and action-star hard in others; she makes jokes, and she seems warm. She does and says things that Lisbeth — my Lisbeth — might not do.

Like all fans of the series, I love Lisbeth. I love her filthy apartment and her ingenuity and the way she has turned herself into steel to survive such an unfriendly world. I love the way she allows herself to crack open to let in a little love and how she takes sex when and how she wants it, unabashedly, even though I know these aspects of her are all products of a terrible past. She is a fascinating character, and I am a huge fan of how Noomi Rapace portrayed her in the original Swedish movie. 

However, after my initial grumblings, I began to get genuinely excited for Fincher’s version. The Millennium trilogy is far from perfect, and the team behind the movie is stellar. The cast includes high-caliber actors like Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, and Craig, and I was impressed by Mara in The Social Network and the photos I’d seen of her in character.

Mara is quite talented, actually, and the questions that linger in my mind are more about why Lisbeth is different and how that changes the dynamic of her character and her relationships with others, especially Mikael. It also makes me question the sort of ownership that people feel towards characters. Am I reacting this way because the changes in this character don’t make sense, or because they’re not what I expect? Does this reflect my tastes, or does changing Lisbeth into a somewhat more palatable character speak to who the audience is — an American audience who maybe wants a few quips thrown in to defang the brainiac heroine. And although Fincher is a smart, smart director, there’s something about how Mikael says to Lisbeth that they’re going to track down “men who hate women” that irks me. Her eyes widen slightly, and she’s hooked. It’s not an accident that Men Who Hate Women was the original Swedish title of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Maybe we do need things dumbed down for us.

Fincher hasn’t confirmed that he will do the next two movies in the series. It is a huge commitment, and it’s interesting to note that Oplev also bowed out after the first. Fincher, Mara, and Craig all have plenty on their plates, both rumored and confirmed, and those long and harrowing shoots in Sweden sound like a special sort of hell. However, I have no doubt that Dragon Tattoo will make bank, collect at least some nominations, if not awards, and foster a demand for the second and third movies in the series. I am very curious to see how the new Lisbeth plays out as she plays with fire and kicks the hornet’s nest.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

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