The film follows Lisbeth Salander as she returns to Sweden after spending a year abroad. She falls under suspicion of having murdered a journalist and his girlfriend as well as her own social services guardian, Nils Bjurman. Mikael Blomkvist has to do what he can to find her before the authorities do.
Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) purchases an apartment in Stockholm. On returning to Sweden after nearly a year living abroad, Salander reconnects with her former lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi) and offers her free use of her previous home in return for forwarding her mail. Later, Salander confronts Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) after hacking into his mail and discovering he has an appointment booked with a tattoo removal specialist. Threatening him with his own gun, she warns him not to remove the tattoo that she etched on his abdomen as revenge for sexually abusing her, marking him as "a pervert, a rapist and a sadistic pig."
Millennium magazine welcomes Dag Svensson (Hans Christian Thulin), a new journalist who is writing an exposé on prostitution and human trafficking in Sweden. Dag's girlfriend, Mia Bergman, is writing her doctoral thesis on sex trafficking. Dag is nearly finished with the story and is confronting those who will be exposed by the article. Dag and his girlfriend are about to leave on a holiday and ask Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to come to his apartment and collect some photographs. At the same time Dag also asks Mikael to inquire about someone called "Zala," who may have a connection to his present research. Mikael arrives at their apartment late at night to collect photographs for the article but finds the two sources lying dead. The murder weapon is tracked to Bjurman who is also deceased. Lisbeth Salander is the prime suspect, as her fingerprints happen to be on the gun as well. Salander tells Blomkvist that she did not kill anyone and that he needs to find the mysterious "Zala."
In an effort to find Lisbeth's residence, Mikael contacts her boxing trainer and friend, Paolo Roberto. While he is unaware of Salander's whereabouts, Paolo does know Miriam, who also trained with them, and promises to pay her a visit. Near her apartment, Paolo witnesses Miriam being kidnapped by strongman Ronald Niedermann. Paolo follows his car to a deserted barn, where he hears him beat Miriam for information about Salander. Paolo comes in to rescue her but Niedermann is more than a match for the skilled boxer. Niedermann sets the barn aflame to finish the job, but the two manage to escape.
News breaks of the attack and Paolo gives his account to the police. After Blomkvist leaves information he has discovered about the case on his computer for Salander to hack into and read, she leaves a message to him saying, "Thank you for being my friend." He realizes that she intends to set out alone to find the man who framed her and that she may not survive. A disguised Salander visits Miriam in hospital to apologize for getting her involved. Without giving anything away, Salander confirms the police sketch of Niedermann with Miriam and then disappears. Knowing now that he is Salander's friend, Miriam calls Blomkvist to the hospital to give him keys that Lisbeth accidentally dropped during her visit. Noticing that one of them is for a post office box, Mikael is able to access and read Salander's mail and locate her apartment. Meanwhile, Salander continues her efforts to find Niedermann by patiently staking out his post office box. She eventually sees someone retrieve his mail and follows him to a small house near Gosseberga. Researching through the material in Lisbeth's apartment Blomkvist finds the video of Bjurman raping Salander.
In the offices of Millennium magazine, Paolo explains he tracked down Niedermann and learned that he has congenital analgesia which makes him doubly formidable because he cannot feel pain. They trace Niedermann to a company owned by "Karl Axel Bodin." Blomkvist has Erika Berger make copies of the documents including the 1993 police report, forwards the originals to Bublanski and sets out to find Salander.
Salander crosses the grounds and enters the Gosseberga house, but Niedermann has been alerted by motion detectors and knocks her out. She awakens to see her father, Alexander Zalachenko, an old man who walks with a stick and is heavily scarred by the burns she inflicted as a child. He dismisses her mother (who is now dead) as a whore and belittles her rape at the hands of Bjurman. He reveals that Niedermann is her half-brother. Niedermann killed Bjurman to prevent him from revealing any of Zalachenko's secrets. Zalachenko is confident he will not be caught, since being an invalid means the idea of his involvement in the murders lacks plausibility.
They lead Lisbeth to a shallow grave in the woods. She tells him the police will find him soon and all that he has said has been published online through her hidden cellphone. Seeing through her bluff, he shoots Lisbeth at close range several times as she attempts to escape and buries her alive. Left for dead, Salander digs her way out using her silver-plated cigarette case gifted to her by Wu. Hidden in the woodshed, she surprises Zalachenko sticking an axe into his leg. She then keeps Niedermann at bay, both with Zalachenko's gun and Niedermann's delusions, just as Blomkvist comes coasting up the driveway. Ambulances and police arrive to take away Salander and Zalachenko who are both very badly injured.Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist
Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander
Lena Endre as Erika Berger
Peter Andersson as Nils Erik Bjurman
Per Oscarsson as Holger Palmgren
Georgi Staykov as Alexander Zalachenko
Sofia Ledarp as Malin Eriksson
Yasmine Garbi as Miriam Wu
Annika Hallin as Annika Giannini
Tanja Lorentzon as Sonja Modig
Paolo Roberto as himself
Johan Kylén as Jan Bublanski
Magnus Krepper as Hans Faste
Ralph Carlsson as Gunnar Björck
Micke Spreitz as Ronald Niedermann
Anders Ahlbom as Dr. Peter Teleborian
Tehilla Blad as young Lisbeth Salander
Daniel Alfredson takes over from Niels Arden Oplev, who directed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first part of the trilogy.
The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, although some noted it a step down from its predecessor. According to review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 69% based on 153 reviews with an average rating of 6.2/10.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half out of four stars, describing the film as a step down from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but only because the first film was so "fresh and unexpected". A. O. Scott of The New York Times praised Rapace's performance, stating, "tiny and agile, her steely rage showing now and then the tiniest crack of vulnerability, belongs to another dimension altogether. She makes this movie good enough, but also makes you wish it were much better." Lisa Kennedy of The Denver Post described Lisbeth Salander as "worth the trouble" and having a "cold stare" the like of which has not been seen since "Clint was roaming the Italian hillsides." She noted the film uses the linked themes of bureaucratic corruption and misogyny, where the previous film linked misogyny with fascism. The review contrasted the violence against women and heroism of Fire with the violence of The Killer Inside Me, complaining that the latter gives in to the worst impulses, noting that only the former story "works" as some redemption is provided through revenge.
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the film is much the same as its predecessor, despite the new director (Daniel Alfredson) and screenwriter (Jonas Frykberg), and is likely to please those who enjoyed the first film. He wrote that Rapace remained the chief asset of the series, and that she worked well with Michael Nyqvist, who he likened to a more sincere, Swedish version of Larry Hagman. He wrote further that, even though Rapace and Nyqvist "could not be better" in their roles, the film needed to acknowledge the middle ground between the righteous heroes and the evil villains in order to work better as cinematic pulp fiction.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gives the film 3 out of 4 stars.
Rick Groen of The Globe and Mail describes the film as "Tepid and downright confusing" for those who have not read the books, although he suspects there are few who have not; he notes that the plot, "already thick on the page, often seems impenetrable here." Although he concedes the plot generates some suspense, he complains it more often results in confusion but hopes the next film in the trilogy will bring greater clarity.
Before being released in the United States the film had already earned $51,259,526 at the international box office.
During its first week of release in the United States, it grossed $904,998, being released in three times as many theaters as the first film and grossing three times as much. The film has a worldwide gross of $67,126,795.