The opening credits alone of David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are worth the price of admission, a nightmarish blend of cyberpunk imagery set to Karen O's blistering cover of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song. Before we're taken to the land of ice and snow we get a crude oil taste of the sex, bondage and sadism to come.
It is the last thing in Fincher's movie that doesn't feel like something seen or heard before for anyone who saw 2009's Swedish version of Stieg Larsson's novel, with its decidedly lower budget and star wattage. Fincher insists the book was his only source, so the resemblance may be coincidental. But it is distracting.
This version — or perversion, as some viewers may say — is simply more of the same sensationalism, for a wider audience that hates subtitles. Certainly the character Lisbeth Salander is notorious, if not for Larsson's kinky description then for Fincher's search to replace cult favorite Noomi Rapace in the role. Now it's Rooney Mara (Fincher's The Social Network) aping her wounded animal appeal and punk persona.
No matter who plays Lisbeth she is a mesmeric character, less boyish with Rooney yet confronting the world with the same wary eyes and spiky social skills. From the instant she appears the movie is hers, currying empathy despite some unsavory actions. The centerpiece of Fincher's film is Lisbeth's rape by her appointed guardian (Yorick van Wageningen), and her brutally just revenge. The movie's tagline as "the feel bad movie of Christmas" is well-earned.
But there's also a mystery to solve. The film is set in icy Sweden where everyone speaks accented English except Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist just convicted of slandering a crooked industrialist. Disgraced and depressed, he leaves his magazine editor post after receiving an offer to write the memoirs of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). What Vanger really wants is Mikael investigating the disappearance of his grand-niece Harriet, 40 years ago.
Lisbeth knows Mikael but he doesn't know it. She was the computer hacker hired by Vanger to check out Mikael. She'll eventually join him in the investigation of what Vanger describes as: "the most detestable collection of people you will ever meet: my family." The Vangers are an odd, sophisticated clan with crocodile smiles and rattling skeletons in their closets.
Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian don't fiddle with the core mystery but do make it even more anticlimactic than the first film by protracting Lisbeth's final hacking scam. Keeping with uptight American tastes some of the sex and violence has been toned down. But there's an impressive aura of creepiness in the frigid locales and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' musical score, throbbing with tubular bells, drums, even a dial-up modem buzz.
While it isn't clear if another version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is necessary, Fincher couldn't make it boring with all this lurid material. He's somewhere between the thriller mode making Se7en a modern horror classic and the procedural pace that turned Zodiac into an atmospheric disappointment. But in any language with anyone at the helm, Lisbeth is still a killer.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.