The Girl in the Spider's Web
Jacob Richardson | 08/10/2018
A middling entry stripped of everything that made this series of novels and disjointed films special.
Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) is approached by scientist Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), who wants her to hack the NSA and steal back Project Fire Fall - a disastrous computer program he built that would give the user access to all of the nuclear weapons in the world. Lisbeth steals it, but before she and Balder can destroy it, she is attacked by a mysterious band of masked villains called the Spiders. She must team up once again with journalist Mikael Blomkvist to take down this mysterious group, re-acquire the software, save a young child and discover the truth about her own family.
David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a brutal, beautiful and intense piece of cinema. As a remake of an insanely good Swedish film (indeed, and insanely good Swedish trilogy), it was always going to be a critical slog to avoid the comparisons and still come out on top. Nevertheless, Fincher’s version still came out with very favourable reviews (89% on Rotten Tomatoes), outside of issues around the length of the film. Box office wise, it wasn’t as successful, barely making back its budget after marketing spend.
In some ways, this speaks to the reasoning behind why this reboot exists, with a new director in Fede Alvarez and a new lead in Claire Foy. Alas, in an effort to not repeat the mistakes of the past, we are offered up a take on Lisbeth Salander that is entirely indistinguishable from any other serviceable action/thriller, on the shorter side, and without any of the flair of the Fincher version.
Most problematic is the plot itself. Delivered by Alvarez, this mystery isn’t so much a struggle to decode as a foregone conclusion from the moment we are shown a flashback. Further, the mcguffin in this case (the Fire Fall), is the blandest, most mundane plot instigator outside of a memory card with a bunch of spies real identities on it. We’ve seen it before, and seeing it again but in monotone grey in the heart of Sweden doesn’t make it any more appealing.
What this adaptation does get right is in its focus on Lisbeth, rather than on Blomkvist. When we are engaging with Lisbeth as a hacker (rather than as a seeming race car driver, a martial artist or a motorcyclist), the film reaches great peaks; none more so than when she helps American NSA operative Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield) escape airport detention. When we leave this relative bubble of safety, things start to get more shaky. The relationship between Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) and Salander is explored here too, and it is good but not great. The Fincher version had a more intriguing interweaving of the two, whereas here Blomkvist’s role is so miminal as to be disposable. However, Alvarez doesn’t make the mistake of putting Blomkvist too much to the front of Salanders story. It is a fine balance, but while Alvarez misses it for different reasons than Fincher did, he still misses it.
The shakiest parts are when it comes down to the villainy. The Spiders, an originally non-descript band of Russian gangsters who turn out to be something much closer to home for Salander, aren’t nearly as intriguing as Stellan Skarsgard in Dragon Tattoo. As a whole, it leads to a plot that is tremendously easy to broad strokes predict - which, when rebooting from a film with a densely complex and very intriguing and innovative plot, really stands out. It leads generally to this feeling that the movie is a standard spy/hacker hero movie. From a plot perspective, none of the quirks and traits that made the novel based Lisbeth Salander such an enduringly different or popular hero are here.
That sentiment is supported by the incredible amount of convenience in the film. How lucky that everywhere Lisbeth seems to go, or to have come from, seems like a grim movie setting? Who grows up in an abandoned castle on a hill, or has a safe house is an observatory with the roof kicked out (perfect for falling snow in the middle of the room, like an anti-fireplace)? Alvarez also has Lisbeth consistently defeat bad guys due to the infrastructure of her safe houses, so much so that perhaps this film should have been called The Girl with the Conveniently Placed Sliding Door.
That being said, Claire Foy really does bring it as Lisbeth Salander. She may not have as many piercings as Rooney Mara, or quite such a radical lack of clothing, but she embodies this moody, mysterious individual to a tee. Throwing off her Queen Elizabeth image from The Crown, Foy dominates the screen, whether she is jumping (in an extremely cool shot) into a bathtub moments ahead of a fireball, attaching Go-Pros to walls or chatting to Blomkvist across the divide of two buildings and opposing glass elevators. She also manages to bring something to the character that Mara couldn’t; a sense of joy. We see this most when she chuckles to herself while eating a burger, safe in the knowledge that she has just fucked with Edwin Needham. It is a nice character beat that reaffirms her as a rounded character.
There are also some great action set pieces (as much as you may question their place in this film, Alvarez really does nail the action here), and the cinematography is frequently stunning. It is just a shame that, despite how pretty the wrapping is, the bones of a good story, with a solid mystery, simply aren’t there to support it.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is very much an OK film. Which is a shame, because as much as it is more accessible and consumable than Fincher’s 2.5 hr long epic, it doesn’t possess any of the intricacies of plot that made that movie such an adult thriller. Instead, The Girl in the Spider’s Web could be the next Jason Bourne movie if there was more American jingoism, which sucks, because this should be an adult thriller with the fabric of Sweden threaded to its core.