Lisbeth Salander - virtuoso hacker, Goth kick-boxer and world-class, fence-jumping misanthrope - is the heart / soul / main attraction / calling card of the late Stieg Larsson's trio of "Girl" novels. And as portrayed by the delicately ferocious Noomi Rapace, she makes "The Girl Who Played With Fire" an adequate if less-than-electrifying sequel to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," which arrived earlier this year.
In the first film, director Niels Arden Oplev maintained a propulsive pace, and the story virtually careened its way to a satisfying semi-conclusion. Director Daniel Alfredson's approach is far more pedestrian, the action doesn't push the story, and much that is simply inconsequential receives an inordinate amount of screen time.
But Rapace's twitchy, intense, volatile Salander is a twisted joy to watch: Flashbacks reveal much of what the first film only hinted at, such as the man she set on fire, the criminal treatment she received from the state, and the ornate series of connections between her past life and the sex-trafficking ring being investigated by Millennium magazine - home to her erstwhile lover-confederate Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist). When two Millennium writers and Lisbeth's legal guardian-rapist are all found shot to death, the cops come after her - and Mikael and Lisbeth must re-form their unlikely alliance.
Despite Alfredson's very deliberate pacing, the story comes off as a bit byzantine and is far too much to summarize here. But the narrative is compelling and the heroine, again, is an object of perverse fascination. The biggest complaints viewers might have with "The Girl Who Played With Fire," in fact, are how abruptly it ends and how long they'll have to wait for part 3.