On this week's episode of Law & Order: Swedish Victims Unit... Pardon the flippancy, Stieg Larsson fans. While you're sharpening your knives for the disrespecting film critic, know this: If you're already invested in the adventures of beleaguered journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) and goth vision-o'-vengeance Lisbeth Salander (Mara), then David Fincher's absorbing adaptation of the first book in the Millennium series will surely satisfy. It moves like a mad dog, looks like a hi-def dream and is deliciously cast from top to bottom (good to see you again, Julian Sands!). Go and bask in the lushly photographed luridness.
But lurid it remains. Blomkvist and Salander's inquiry into the affairs of the moneyed and malevolent Vanger family plays like a ripped-from-the-headlines mishmash---part Royal Family puffery, part Josef Fritzl what-the-fuck. And though Fincher hits all the right emotional beats (e.g., the Mulder-and-Scully--like pining between the leads) and does all the memorable set pieces (the rod-up-the-ass revenge scenario), his exquisite craft can't distract from a number of troubling questions at the story's core. The most glaring: Is the brilliant yet blighted Salander, who takes rapes and beatings as much as she gives them, a victimized phoenix rising from the ashes or a charismatic wet dream for fanboys and -girls to go gaga over? Larsson was surely aware of the narrative's potentially misunderstood contradictions; the book's cheekily profound original title, Men Who Hate Women, could have sprung from Sam Fuller's typewriter. But Fincher's film tips much more in the indulging direction of crowd Comic-Con---delighting the franchise junkie above all other considerations.
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