10/27/2010 08:05 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Is Lisbeth Salander the most fascinating female literary -- or movie -- character of all time?

Certainly, Stieg Larsson's punk-hacker heroine is right up there in the pantheon. It's hard to think of a female movie character based on a literary work -- Scarlett O'Hara? Elizabeth Bennett? Madame Bovary? -- who strides through her world with the authority, confidence and sheer balls of Salander. She dominates Larsson's Millennium Trilogy despite being off-screen for long chunks of time

It's also difficult to imagine an actress embodying the character with the kind of ferocity and presence that Noomi Rapace has brought to this role over the course of three films. Sorry, Mara Rooney, but you've got some big steel-toed boots to fill.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which arrives in American theaters (or at least a limited number, to start) on Friday (10/29/10), completes the trilogy of Swedish films that explored, to near perfection, Larsson's propulsively and complexly plotted story, which began with a journalist in disgrace and concludes, three films later, with a journalist taking on a clandestine and dangerous government conspiracy.

The journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), has spent his career battling right-wing forces in Sweden through his magazine, Millennium. Salander, as lone a she-wolf as you're likely to find, became his lover and saved his life in the first book (and film) of the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He came to her defense and saved her life when she was accused of triple homicide in the sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire.

In Hornet's Nest, it all comes full circle, with Salander in the hospital, recovering from gunshot wounds and awaiting trial for the crimes of which she was accused in the second film. At the same time, Blomkvist is tracking evidence that, in fact, Salander's whole life has been circumscribed because she was the victim of a government conspiracy. A clandestine intelligence service is behind the plot, one calculated to protect her father, a ruthless and brutal Russian defector. To them, his value as an intelligence source outweighed Salander's rights as a young girl trying to protect first her mother, then herself, from her vicious father's depredations.

Like any great legal thriller, Hornet's Nest sets up a fascinating David-Goliath dichotomy: Blomkvist and Salander (and Blomkvist's lawyer sister, who is defending Salander) on one side, a secret government intelligence arm with seemingly inexhaustible resources (and a willingness to plant evidence, falsify documents and testimony and commit murder) on the other.

Larsson's book found ways to blend the arrogance of the villains with the resourcefulness of the protagonists to create a page-turning narrative that culminated in a thrilling courtroom sequence. Director Daniel Alfredson and screenwriter Jonas Frykberg have distilled Larsson's story, eliminating a couple of subplots without diminishing the excitement or suspense of the tale.

Click here: This review concludes on my website.