Like the earlier movies, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest trades on the spectacle of female suffering, including a repeat of the ghastly rape in the first flick. At the same time, as in certain slasher films from the 1970s and high-end thrillers that borrow from a similar horror playbook, the violence against women in the Millennium movies is answered by a young woman, the one whose bad attitude is as unapologetic as that of any male avenger. Salander hits (and sometimes shoots) back and never says sorry. Every so often, she responds to some violence with a small, mean smile that the camera makes sure to capture. There’s satisfaction in that smile, maybe cynicism, but no evident moral complexity.
Alfredson directed the second movie as well, and his work is again essentially functional, limited to clumsy action sequences and television-ready conversations. He doesn’t prettify violence in either movie, which might be unintentional but makes them feel more honest than the first did. That more visually ambitious effort, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, softened all the ugliness with haunted, wintry tableaus, whereas Alfredson makes do with a Stockholm that hardly conveys a noir nightmare. It looks so banal, which — with the hot, bisexual babe and heroic leftist journalist — might explain why a revenge fantasy as crudely plotted, disreputably pleasurable and aesthetically irredeemable as any in the lower cinematic depths has made it to art houses in the US. There, payback seems so civilized.