There is a major spoiler in the penultimate paragraph of this review. It has been sufficiently marked. If you haven’t seen the original or read the book, then avoid.
As I saw Fincher’s take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I was constantly reminded of another Swedish film that got a Hollywood remake: Let The Right One In. While its remake (titled Let Me In) was structurally similar to the original, it set itself apart by stressing on different emotions and themes, without compromising on elements that made the original iconic. Consequently, both were terrific films worthy of being appreciated on their own. Unfortunately, the remake of TGWTDT, while technically impressive, brings very little that is new to the table apart from a few cosmetic changes.
For the plot, read my review of the original. The opening credits are phenomenal. Visually and aurally, they are quite a treat and innovative in conveying the themes of the film. Christopher Plummer is also perfectly cast as Henrik Vanger. The three biggest assets of the film are the cinematography and the background score. Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor provide a haunting background score that despite its electronic base has deeply rooted in classic noir and Hitchcockian mysteries. Their cover of the Immigrant Song is very good. The cinematography is effective in creating the sense of dread, danger and melancholia. Rooney Mara gives a phenomenal performance, undoubtedly. However, the screenplay simplifies her character in key aspects that robs her performance of the nuance and subtleties that Noomi Rapace brought to Lisbeth Salander.
Moreover, there is a distinct lack of imagination in the remake that is alarming. The setting remains the same. The execution of the scenes is similar. It’s all very by the numbers. The few changes that are made actually make it pale in comparison to the original. And although Daniel Craig is a better actor than Michael Nyqvist, what is with the English accent? Everyone around him (including Rooney Mara) has an exotic (Swedish sounding) accent. But he doesn't. His accent is distracting, out of place and tempts me greatly to dismiss his performance as just, plain lazy.
The worst decision the film makes is in casting Stellan Skarsgard as Martin Vanger. This isn’t because he is a bad actor, it’s because he is too popular a face. As the most recognizable Swedish actor in the world since Ingrid Bergman and Max von Sydow, one knows his character is likely to play a “significant” role, which robs the film of the element of surprise. The great thing about Peter Haber was that he blended in with the rest of the family. Therefore, one expected him to be no more or less significant than the rest of the lot. Unfortunately, Skarsgard is a bad choice for the role. It would’ve been interesting had they brought someone new/relatively unknown.
Ultimately, the most unfortunate thing about the remake is that there is very little Fincher brings to the table in terms of vision. Barring a few clever touches, it's almost as if he directed the film on autopilot. In his repertoire, this is Fincher’s weakest film since Panic Room. For me, the film’s greatest failing is that its inability to meet its maker’s self imposed standards. While someone who hasn’t seen the original will enjoy it, others who have will find little of interest in this remake. And between the two films, I strongly suggest you see the Swedish version.