Stieg Larsson’s Millennium is on its way to matching Spider-Man in terms of reboots across media. The late author’s three best-selling books, which suffer more than slightly from his death before proper editing was complete, were adapted into Swedish-language amphibians –released as cinema films, but also screenable in a different version as a television serial. Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist launched international careers as Larsson’s hero team (damaged punk hacker Lisbeth Salander, middle-aged liberal journo Mikael Blomkvist). Like the books, the Swedish films have a weird structure – not a trilogy proper, but a great one-off story in which the heroes get caught up in someone else’s problems, and a fudgier two-part story that delves into Salander’s backstory. David Fincher did an English-language remake Män som hatar kvinnor as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig … but that admirable effort didn’t connect enough to merit follow-ups covering Larsson’s remaining novels. The estate authorised David Lagercrantz to continue the series in novels (two to date). Now director-writer Fede Alvarez – having made his bones on a remake (Evil Dead) and a sleeper (Don’t Breathe) – gets the gig of doing that as a movie, co-scripting with Jay Basu and Steven Knight. Claire Foy sports an Iwan Rheon haircut and an Arrow hoodie as a new Lisbeth while Sverrir Gudnason is seventh billed as a superfluous Blomkvist, de-aged to the point when he might be a conceivable romantic partner for the heroine which skews their complex relationship into conventional areas. And that’s pretty much the approach of the whole film.
Not learning from the falling-off of the original series, Lagercrantz opted to go into Salander’s family history and come up with another psycho sibling as villain. Here, Foy’s leather-clad, frowning vigilante finds that the fiend behind it all is her own estranged sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), the only person in Sweden who wears anything other than black and white – which is a striking look, but impractical since she makes a great target when fleeing through snowy woods in bright crimson threads. The mcguffin is the sort of thing found in too many Mission: Impossible films – indeed, Michael Nykvist (late of this parish) used quite a similar gizmo in Ghost Protocol – a computer program, devised by a Swedish boffin (Stephen Merchant), which enables the user to hack into any nation’s nuclear arsenal and end the world. Camilla has stolen the codes, but needs the boffin’s maths brain son (Christopher Convery) to activate it, and Lisbeth protects the odd little boy, with whom the film wants her to establish a bond of neuroatypical outsiders but who just gets passed around like a walking, chess-playing plot widget. An American spy-cum-sniper (Lakeith Stanfield) and a comedy hacker (Cameron Britton) get in on the act, but Blomkvist’s editor-cum-sometime-lover Erika (Vicky Krieps) gets pushed even further to the sidelines. Yes, it’s refreshing that for once a guy is the useless clod kidnapped and threatened to motivate the heroine – but this whole storyline feels like a placeholder until something more interesting comes along. Alvarez stages a few good scenes – Salander’s vigilante introduction, a motorbike escape across a frozen river, even that final stalking in the woods – but it’s a suspenseless action picture and a transparent mystery. Foy (Unsane), Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049) and Krieps (Phantom Thread) are all powerhouse players, but are ill-served by the material.
The Millennium branding (the name of Blomkvist’s magazine) has been quietly ditched, and this bears the semi-official subtitle ‘a new Dragon Tattoo story’ to tag the franchise.