The draw of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” David Fincher Edition, is that we just want to see what this director will do with the thing, although we can sort of guess that the main thing he’ll do is make a shitload of money.
It’s still not even three years since the first book in Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published, sensation-spawning “Millennium Trilogy” became a Swedish film, but getting over our remake gag reflex somehow seems easier when the remaker in question is a luxe stylist of serial-killer thrillers. Fincher’s supremely slick opening credits sequence right away suggests a new way to see this: not as merely another unnecessary English-language effigy of European box-office success, but rather some kind of cyber-radical nouveau Bond flick (complete with Daniel Craig), as done by the director of “Se7en” and “Zodiac.”
The whole setup suits Fincher’s pervy predilections all too well: In an atmosphere foul with family secrets, brutal sexual violence, and murder, a muckraking journalist (Craig) and a volatile hacker (Rooney Mara) form an unlikely crime-solving alliance. The mood is by turns brooding and cheeky. The method is technically exacting. The temperature is not warm.
It begins with the journalist, one Mikael Blomkvist, summoned to a nest of wealthy Swedish industrialists. They have their own private island and ample skeleton space in the family closets — or basement torture chambers, as the case may be. Their reigning patriarch, an elderly tycoon played by Christopher Plummer, has commissioned a biography of himself, but really he wants an investigation of the presumed murder of a beloved niece several decades ago. He describes the rest of the family, which includes Stellan Skarsgård, as “the most detestable collection of people you will ever meet.” Blomkvist does his legwork and determines this claim to be fair enough.
As for the girl with the dragon tattoo, one Lisbeth Salander, she’s a woman, not a girl. The original title of Larsson’s book was “Men Who Hate Women,” and the movie modification, in any language, doesn’t exactly strike a blow against misogyny. Ms. Salander seems rather lean and lithe for someone who apparently subsists only on Happy Meals, but as she explains, she’s lucky enough to have a high metabolism. In other ways she is less lucky; we may infer her family to be almost as detestable as the tycoon’s, and in any case she is now a ward of the state, whose caseworker also is her rapist. In one scene, her T-shirt reads: “Fuck You You Fucking Fuck.” It is possible that she’s a fan of “Blue Velvet.”
Salander first encounters Blomkvist as the checker of his background. Then she becomes his assistant, then his lover. He already has a lover, who is also his editor, and is played by Robin Wright, but that seems not to matter, just as it seems not to matter that Wright troubles herself with a Swedish accent while Craig doesn’t.
Making good on but not really considering its “Evil Shall With Evil Be Expelled” tagline, the movie works briskly through its coils of retributory sadism, keeping a straight face — neither wincing nor smirking — even during what amounts to an overly explanatory “Scooby Doo” ending. Some credit for its efficiency seems due to screenwriter Steven Zaillian, but as we’ve established, this was a tale promiscuous enough to freely drift between its tellers, and now here it is as a David Fincher film — a very dark space in which actors lurk and give off glints of their charisma.
Fincher’s faith in Mara has been clear since he cast her as the decisively dissatisfied girlfriend who set “The Social Network” in motion. Maybe Facebook can decide how her pixie-punk credentials compare with those of her Lisbeth Salander predecessor Noomi Rapace — recently graduated, alas, to window-dressing Guy Ritchie’s coarsely manful “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”
Certainly this new “Dragon Tattoo” movie is no disgrace to the arguably more lascivious Swedish original. But what is it really worth? By now the Salander phenomenon has been beaten nearly to death, or at least as near to it as the woman herself has been beaten during the long course of Larsson’s trilogy and its film variations. It goes too far to say Fincher’s crafty resuscitation qualifies as movie mastery, or that profiteering detachment is a moral improvement on coy salacity. Still: It’ll sell. Not all men hate women, of course. But some could learn to love them more.