At the Movies: Ink fades on ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ |

At the Movies: Ink fades on ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.
Courtesy Photo

Movie at a glance ...

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

2 out of 4 stars

158 minutes

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgård

Movie at a glance …

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

2 out of 4 stars

158 minutes

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgård

When filmmakers decide to create their own version of an already popular movie, their process starts with a choice as to whether they will build on what has been done with the material before or start entirely from scratch.

In the case of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the cast and crew clearly worked with a stencil.

Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has just been rocked by a lawsuit from a powerful businessman (Ulf Friberg) who claims he was slandered.

With his reputation and bank account demolished as a result, Blomkvist doesn’t have high hopes for the future of his magazine, Millennium, or his own career.

The last thing he wants is to jump back into the world of investigation on high-profile people, but some stories can’t be ignored, especially considering who wants things examined.

Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the former head of one of the nation’s biggest companies, has asked for Blomkvist’s help in solving a crime that has weighed heavily on his mind for decades.

More than 40 years ago, his niece Harriet (Moa Garpendal), disappeared from the Vanger family compound, presumed murdered.

Besides offering a hefty compensation for his time looking into the details of the case, Henrik may also have something that can help ease Blomkvist’s legal woes.

Blomkvist finds little to go on as he starts researching the Vangers’ notorious history, but assistance is only a keyboard away, with computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) following his recent actions with great interest.

Craig is surprisingly ineffective as the onscreen persona of the late Stieg Larsson, who wrote the Millennium trilogy before dying under suspicious circumstances.

The actor who rekindled our love affair with James Bond is simply out of place, playing Blomkvist as somewhat slow-witted and easily overwhelmed for a man who’s supposedly used to dealing with heavy pressure from bad people.

Plummer is fine as the nice old man who cheerily refers to the Vangers as a collection of thieves, misers and bullies, among other things.

Given that certain boughs of the family tree willfully dropped fruit into the Nazi part of the forest around the time of World War II, that must be one of the more polite things he can state about his relations.

With many of the Vangers actively hostile toward him about digging into their past — under the pretense of writing Henrik’s biography — it’s a relief for Blomkvist to find a friendly face in Harriet’s brother, Martin, with actor Stellan Skarsgård the only member of the main cast who’s actually Swedish.

Admittedly, you don’t have to be from the country to play one of its inhabitants convincingly, with Mara a wonder as the disturbed techno-punk young woman who gets all of our attention.

With her biggest role as Mark Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend in last year’s “The Social Network,” the breakthrough star undergoes a total mutation as the nearly feral Lisbeth, from her grungy hooded sweatshirt and the duct tape around her shoes to her bleached eyebrows, multiple piercings and a desire to play for both teams sexually.

Plus, rumor has it she plays with fire and kicks hornet’s nests. But, judging this book by her cover would be a mistake, knowing the brilliant, cunning mind that hides beneath an amorphous, unapologetic mess of jet-black hair.

Watching Lisbeth’s exploits on her own — torturing a misogynist (Yorick van Wageningen) who has done her some serious wrong — are much more fascinating than any of the action happening with Blomkvist.

Giving Mara so much screen time is something director David Fincher certainly does right.

As for what he does wrong, let’s start with the main problem: the whole movie.

If ever there was a film that didn’t need to be remade, it was Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 adaptation of the first of Larsson’s bestsellers.

Coming out with his own version so soon after the fact is only part of the blunder that Fincher makes by churning out a carbon copy.

It’s not identical to the original necessarily, but the differences are few and far between, with a few moments that are more faithful to the book masking elements that are much more broad than the original movie, not to mention the eye-rolling staginess that makes everything seem so fabricated.

Oplev’s take on Larsson’s series was rightfully praised for its realism and raw tone in portraying the darker side of Scandinavia.

Fincher has almost the exact same components, but in his hands these characters seem much more like an invention of someone’s mind than anyone who actually exists.

Is it unfair to compare the two separate films?

Maybe, since two different people can tell a story successfully and should have their efforts judged on their individual merits.

What’s unfair is that Fincher has ignored the steps of a remake by not asking himself the basic questions: What can I say that someone else hasn’t already? How can I make this story my own? Who will my version reach?

And as a result, we now have the same story set in the same place with the same message, with the only people who it will appeal to the ones who are too lazy to read subtitles or see a film that doesn’t star Hollywood A-listers.

The opening title sequence of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” — complete with Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” — falsely hints that Fincher has a new and exciting perspective on a worldwide phenomenon in store for us.

Instead, he shows that he’s just another American wanting to stamp his name on something that’s already been done, and done better.

As if that weren’t enough, even the body art on Lisbeth’s back isn’t as cool as it was the first time.

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