The Girl In The Spider’s Web review: Hacker and vigilante Lisbeth Salander returns in this soft reboot, passing the dragon tattoo to The Crown’s Claire Foy and Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez.
The character of Lisbeth Salander, originated in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy of books, has been portrayed by three different actresses in the past nine years. First there was Noomi Rapace in the original Swedish adaptation, then Rooney Mara in David Fincher’s superior remake of the first book and now we have Claire Foy. The character has been a difficult one for people to connect with, with Fincher’s remake in particular not quite hitting the levels of success its expensive pay tag demanded.
The changing hand of actors and directing talent makes it easy to compare this franchise to the evolution of the James Bond franchise, and it seems like those behind the camera are very aware of that fact. So much so, that they seem to be going for broke in making Salander a female counterpart to Bond, with this new flick going down a more action-driven, spy thriller route than its predecessors. Unfortunately, something has been lost in this changing of hands, making this a less involving and much more contrived outing for the girl with the dragon tattoo.
Spider’s Web sees Lisbeth hired by an ex-NSA computer programmer (Stephen Merchant) to steal a program that he developed for the agency named Firewall, a program which grants the user access to the world’s nuclear launch codes. When the program ends up in the hands of some ruthless mercenaries, it soon becomes clear to Lisbeth that they are being led by someone with a strong link to her past, namely the sister (Sylvia Hoeks) she abandoned when she escaped the clutches of their abusive father.
With nuclear launch codes on the line, it is not hard to see where the connections with James Bond can be formed. Even having the story of a vengeful sibling working in the shadows and pulling the strings on an evil organisation brings to mind Craig’s most recent entry, Spectre. It has also permeated the style of action, with a lot of the set pieces proving to be quite outlandish (there’s no escaping how silly, Die Another Day-esque, a motorbike going over a frozen lake looks) and more of the action is less driven by personal trauma than it is bombastic fight scenes.
Alvarez has proven to be a director capable of dragging you into dark and dangerous worlds, establishing atmosphere and proving a deft hand with stylish lashings of gore. Here though, he doesn’t seem to quite fit the material. You can feel his horror instincts crying to be let out of the cage as he tries to add visual quirks to the pretty generic action beats. He does find his groove occasionally, particularly in the final third when we get to enter the decrepit house of Lisbeth’s childhood, but for the most part, you can feel Alvarez struggling to make the material work for his sensibilities.
The issue with the film does come down to the material itself. The plot is more outlandish and a little daft, but an air of pretension remains. The film lacks a sense of humour that allows for the more contrived plot and more stylised action to land smoothly, making the film feel like a Brosnan-era Bond but one lacking the wit that made those films at least entertaining, even in their worst moments. Spider’s Web is a much more conventional film characterised by generic action, particularly when compared to the darker, more internalised drama of the originals. It is clearly in a move to make the film more appealing to general audiences, but it sacrifices the edge that used to characterise this franchise.
The biggest casualty of this shift to more conventional action thriller is Lisbeth herself. Her violent acts of vigilantism are toned down and seem to be less of a driving force for her. It is hard to get a sense of what’s really driving her, as she is much more of a cipher in the mould of Bond or Bourne, moving through the beats, solving problems, kicking ass and spouting exposition when the story calls for it. As a result, Foy’s performance doesn’t really register beyond an impressive physicality and mopey facial expressions. The character’s edges have been sanded off, which may have been more forgivable if the story itself was more engaging, but alas that is not the case.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is mildly entertaining as it moves through its serviceable action beats. But the issue here is that it is just very uninvolving, too generic to feel all that worthwhile or that hopeful as a new direction for the girl with the dragon tattoo. Which is a shame, considering the previously seen talents of its director and star. On evidence of this, it is likely that this Lisbeth will suffer a similar fate of Rooney Mara’s before her, one of lukewarm commercial reception and eventual abandonment.
The Girl In The Spider’s Web review by Andrew Gaudion, November 2018.
The Girl In The SPider’s Web is released in cinemas on Wednesday 21st November.