Review in a Hurry: David Fincher brings a grand visual style to this readaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel, and the Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross score is what you would hope for. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are fine in the leads, but when it comes to the actual plot, one does get the feeling that it didn't need to be told again. Newcomers to the story may disagree.
The Bigger Picture: The actual main character is a disgraced magazine editor named Mikael Blomkvist (Craig), but The Journalist With the Legal Problems doesn't make for a sexy title. The titular girl, Lisbeth Salander (Mara), is a hacker extraordinaire with a troubled past who aids Blomkvist in a decades-old missing persons case that could solve his courtroom issues and help her bring a murderer of women to justice.
The two don't meet for more than an hour of the movie's run-time. While Blomkvist is being recruited by eccentric millionaire Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) with the promise of damning evidence against his legal opponent as a reward, Salander is busy being abused by—and plotting revenge against—her state-appointed guardian. But having proven her value by doing the background check on Blomkvist for Vanger's counsel, she becomes the ideal research assistant for her subject...whom she can't help falling for, even though he's well and truly taken.
Yes, this is a notable change from the previous big-screen version, though not so much from the book. Mara's Salander is more vulnerable than the feral creature Noomi Rapace portrayed, and is more likely to equate sex with love. The difference is arguably epitomized in their key identifying trait: Rapace's dragon tattoo was a full back piece of a monster ripping out from her flesh, while Mara's stylized thing runs down her shoulder blade more modestly and thinly. We might like to imagine that this is simply a matter of different interpretation, rather than a studio mandate that Lisbeth be made more likable, but it's hard not to suspect the latter.
It is strange that a movie about a master cyber-sleuth involves so many scenes of Lisbeth and Mikael looking through old library records and books, though not as strange as the fact that everything which contains a key clue just happens to be in English when the rest of it isn't. It's an odd compromise to keep the Swedish setting while having everyone speaking our language; as much as fans of the book might cry blasphemy, a radical reworking/resetting might have been more appropriate and interesting.
What's here will work better for those who haven't experienced the tale before, either as book or film; the mystery isn't all that compelling a second time, and in a cast of familiar faces it's easier to pick out the villain from the get-go. It isn't a bad movie, but Fincher is capable of better.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Do we really believe the new, more vulnerable Salander can swiftly beat up a subway mugger twice her size? Perhaps, if the scene goes by so fast and with such loud Reznor music that it barely has time to register. Still feels like a cheat, though.