12/13/2011 03:09 pm ET Updated Dec 27, 2011

'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo': How Does It Compare To The Swedish Version?

For the millions of fans who love the goth feminist hacker Lisbeth Salander and have been waiting for David Fincher's new version of the Stieg Larsson novel to hit the theaters on December 20, it might not even matter how good the film is so long as it hews closely enough to the beloved book.

Luckily, most of the early reviews have been widely praiseful of the new take, and seem especially taken with both Fincher's meticulous direction and Rooney Mara's fierce turn as the title character.

"This is a bleak but mesmerizing piece of filmmaking; it offers a glancing, chilled view of a world in which brief moments of loyalty flicker between repeated acts of betrayal," David Denby of the New Yorker wrote in his controversially early review.

Not everyone was so enthused; Drew McWeeny of Hitfix appreciated Fincher's touch but was ultimately unmoved, giving the film a B-.

"Purely judged on its technical merits, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is sensational, another example of just how much control Fincher is capable of exerting over every element of his films," he wrote. "So why is it that at the end of the two-hour forty-minute run time, I felt absolutely nothing for this film at all?"

Enthusiasts who've already seen the 2009 Swedish version may be wondering how Fincher's new film differs from the original. The difference seems to lie mainly in Fincher's work, Mara's performance, and a twist change on the ending.

Justin Chang, writing for Variety noted that the movie was "considerably slicker and more sophisticated piece of film craft than the Swedish production or either of its Nordic TV sequels" and also hews "more faithfully to the novel."

Chang also lauded Mara's interpretation of the role made famous by Noomi Rapace.

"Whereas Rapace emphasized the character's pluck and rage, the more petite, vulnerable-looking Mara presents Salander as an emptied-out enigma," he wrote.

At The Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy gave the advantage to Fincher.

"Although Niels Arden Oplev's Swedish adaptation, which ran 152 minutes (180 in an extended version), was perfectly solid, if not particularly stylish, and boasted a fine cast, there was cause to suspect that one of the best American directors now working would bring something extra to this exactingly lurid tale of a disgraced journalist and his kinky accomplice who chart the untold depths of depravity, old Nazi sympathies and serial murder in the vaunted Vanger clan," he wrote.

Still, it's a slim advantage.

"The film offers no surprises in the way it's told (aside from a neatly altered ending) and little new juice to what, for some, will be the third go-round," McCarthy continued.

Tim Grierson at Screendaily concurred, again calling out Mara for the originality she brings to Lisbeth.

"Mara doesn't have the kinetic danger or sex appeal that made Rapace so magnetic, but her Lisbeth is its own creation, an alluring (albeit nearly asexual) outcast who seems hopelessly withdrawn until she's called upon to assault a rapist or thief, which she does with frightening efficiency," he wrote.

And, according to Grierson, fans may be in for a surprise.

"Those who have seen the 2009 film will notice that Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian haven't extensively changed the story ... until the movie reaches its last 30 minutes or so," he wrote.

For some critics, Larsson's intricate tome left little room for much experimentation, to the film's detriment.

"David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s pulp thriller 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' marks an odd milestone in his directorial career: it's the first of his films that feels beneath him," wrote Robbie Collin of the Telegraph, who gave it three out of five stars. "For once, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker's flair for marshalling large casts of characters and mapping out complex storylines works against him: without any surface confusion, the essential flimsiness of Larsson's million-selling whodunit is all too visible."

At Slant, Ed Gonzalez was similarly unimpressed, giving the film two and a half out of four stars.

"Unlike Arden Oplev, Fincher doesn't gleefully exploit Larsson's material," he wrote. Still, he goes on, "only a complete reimagining of Larsson's text might have given any of its film adaptations real value."