07/07/2010 02:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire

While some have complained that Stieg Larsson's follow-up to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo lacked the depth and mystery of its predecessor, The Girl Who Played with Fire simply offers different pleasures as a second episode -- or the middle book in a trilogy.

That's true of the Swedish film version of this book, the second in the series to reach the U.S. this year, which goes into limited release Friday (7/9/10). The third installment, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, comes out at year's end.

Daniel Alfredson has made a very different film from Neils Oplev, whose Dragon Tattoo had the tension and energy of The Silence of the Lambs. But that's because Girl Who Played with Fire is a very different story, a cat-and-mouse game of tricks and traps within schemes within plots and conspiracies.

Larsson holds it all together in the three-volume Millennium series, giving each book its own plot without losing sight of the larger, overarching story that set all of this in motion. The challenge with the three different films is keeping them bound together by a style that reflects the ongoing and ever-fascinating characters.

The most fascinating of these, of course, is Lisbeth Salander, perhaps the most evocative fictional female character since Lara Croft -- and she started as a near-live-action video game character. Salander has more depth, more kinks and more sheer zest for living than any nihilist in recent fiction.

As played by Noomi Rapace, she is at once distinctively tough and contained and easily disguised. She moves casually through society with only minimal changes -- a blonde wig, a lot less eyeliner -- to keep her hidden from a nation that is hunting her down.

Yes, in this second novel, Salander, the ultimate undercover agent and researcher, has her cover blown when her fingerprints are found on a gun used in a triple murder. Suddenly her face is all over the newspapers as the subject of a manhunt, even as her few -- but highly placed -- friends begin the legwork to prove that Salander is innocent.

Alfredson paces this film like a brisk episode of some no-nonsense British mystery series, like Prime Suspect. And the script by Jonas Frykberg tightens the plot without sacrificing any of its brutal color.

Larsson's novels (and his career, really) take as their subtext the notion that all government has secrets, things that wouldn't pass the smell test if the public knew about them.

This review continues on my website.