The Hollywood adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s huge selling novel, The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, directed by David Fincher was meant to be the start of a profitable new franchise. Despite strong critical consensus, a worldwide gross of $200 million and an Oscar win for Best Film Editing, studio MGM declared the film a “modest loss.” The studio opted to go in a new direction and Fincher, Mara and Craig weren’t asked back.
But franchise culture abhors a vacuum. And so it was only a matter of time before such a promising property would be revisited.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web attempts a soft reboot and replaces Mara with Claire Foy (Netflix’s The Crown) as the titular Lisbeth Salander, the goth-ish, traumatized hacker and protagonist of the series. One of the more interesting characters in cinema, Lisbeth Salander is beguiling because she is both sad and inscrutable. Her sexual interests are ambiguous and she spends a large chunk of her time in front of a laptop screen. But according to The Girl in the Spider’s Web, adapted from the novel by David Lagercrantz, based on characters from the Stieg Larsson trilogy, it isn’t enough for the protagonist to use her brains. Salander is also an avenging angel seeking to right the wrongs of Swedish society in the #MeToo era. Think of her as a sort-of vigilante on the hunt for men who mistreat women. The adult Lisbeth Salander is introduced serving hot justice to a repeat offender just as he towers above one of his victims.
Adapted for the screen by the trio of Jay Basu, Steven Knight and Fede Alvarez and directed by Alvarez, (Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe) The Girl in the Spider’s Web, the fourth novel in the series, picks up from where Larsson’s trilogy ended but not without filling in some gaps in casual ways so viewers are brought up to speed.
The prologue has Lisbeth Salander escape the clutches of an abusive father, leaving her twin sister behind and the action resumes in present day Stockholm where Salander is courted to help protect a scientist (Stephen Merchant) who has created Firefall, a computer program that could be weaponized to bring about catastrophe should it get into the wrong hands.
Because The Girl in the Spider’s Web is played as a more straightforward actioner than Fincher’s film, it quickly introduces the elements that complicate this mission. Salander finds herself in the crosshairs of a powerful sinister organization, one with ties that are conveniently filial and in between dodging bullets and setting up elaborate hacks, she must borrow a leaf from 007 himself and head back to her own Skyfall as she attempts to resolve her childhood trauma. Back in the USA, an American national security agent (Lakeith Stanfield) picks up on Salander’s trail, to protect America’s interests. And lest we forget, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, (Sverrir Gudnason replacing Daniel Craig) is in the mix somewhere but this time, not as useful. This is a #MeToo story after all.
Claire Foy as the titular heroine is no Rooney Mara, neither is she Noomi Rapace from the original films in the Swedish trilogy, but she doesn’t have to be. Her Swedish accent is passable but this version while ultra-stylish and competently assembled isn’t much concerned about layers of human behavior and Swedish society in the way that David Fincher was.
So the protagonist has little to do but be a formidable action heroine. Foy does this well enough and Alvarez is a brilliant controller of motion as he carries his action smartly without so much as stopping for a breather. The drama doesn’t ring as true as the thrills do but Alvarez manages to squeeze out the tiniest of an emotional core that makes up for the film’s cold, bleak Swedish atmosphere.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web doesn’t take itself too seriously and director Alvarez knows how to deliver crowd pleasing moments that are sure to help the film find its audience beyond hard core fans of the franchise. He is also a sleek visual stylist that knows how to make the best out of stark minimalism and space as seen in the heroine’s Stockholm apartment and in other interior scenes.
As a straight up action thriller, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a genuine winner.