The movie version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" was a brutal awakening. Adapted from a Swedish murder mystery by the late Stieg Larsson, the hit flick introduced the world to Nordic noir, to a fiercely compelling actress named Noomi Rapace and to director Niels Arden Oplev, who rubbed our noses in the cold violence.
The irreplaceable Rapace is back for the franchise follow-up, "The Girl Who Played with Fire," but the director is now Daniel Alfredson, who flinches from the sadistic source material and the challenge of re-reinventing the thriller for the Internet era. The relation of the first film to this serviceable sequel is like the relation between "The Silence of the Lambs" and Michael Bay's remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." The first is art; the second is commerce.
By the end of "Dragon Tattoo," scarred and secretive hacker Lisbeth Salander had exacted revenge against a rapist parole officer, escaped from a neo-Nazi serial killer and reunited a father with his long-lost daughter.
Rather lazily, those themes — and even some of the individual scenes — are repeated in "The Girl Who Played with Fire." It is set a year later, after Sander returns from her Riviera exile to help crusading reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) bust open a sex-trafficking ring.
But while the middle-aged journalist and the punky lesbian made an unlikely duo in "Dragon Tattoo," they are almost completely separate in this film, which also relies less on Lisbeth's cyber smarts. Instead it leans on B-movie motifs, such as a moralizing politician with a sick secret, a ghoulish patriarch with a score to settle and a Teutonic superman with, yes, a chainsaw.
"The Girl Who Played with Fire" is a passable popcorn movie, but fans of the first film who expect lightning to strike twice are liable to get burned.