'The Girl In The Spider's Web' Film Review - A Complete Misunderstanding Of What Makes This Series Work
By Jack Dignan
In Cinemas Today
At one point in The Girl in the Spider’s Web Sylvia Hoek’s villainous Camilla asks Claire Foy “are you not Lisbeth Salander? The righter or wrongs? The girl who hurts men who hurt women?” While Foy embodies the infamous Salander, the third actor to do so, Camilla’s rhetorical question isn’t always so rhetorical, for this new Lisbeth barely feels like the character we’re used to, and this new installment in the Dragon Tattoo franchise struggles to live up to its David Fincher-led predecessor. I’ve been anticipating a sequel for seven years now, and despite not being huge on the fourth book (it’s fun while it lasts, but pointless in hindsight) I remained optimistic. But it seems Lisbeth would’ve been better off spending her time playing with fire or kicking hornet’s nests rather than getting herself tangled in a spider’s web.
Don’t Breathe’s Fede Alvarez steps into the director’s chair this time around, adapting the David Lagercrantz novel with the help of co-writers Steven Knight (Locke) and Jay Basu (Monsters: Dark Continent). While somewhat of a soft reboot, implementing a fresh cast and crew, this new film also serves as a direct follow-up to Fincher’s 2011 adaptation. This decision has always been a puzzling one. The original film was a success, not a massive one but a success nonetheless, garnishing critical praise and bounds of awards (even an Oscar!). Fincher had perfectly laid the groundwork for the trilogy to come, and yet it never happened. So, now we’re dealing with a soft reboot of sorts. Sure. Whatever. It’s Hollywood, it happens.
However, what makes this decision puzzling is that The Girl in the Spider’s Web spends so much of its runtime trying to emulate the style of the first installment which does, once again, beg the question of “why?” Why choose a fresh start if you’re going to spend your entire movie living in the shadow of the original, attempting to recapture magic you decided to throw away? And why choose to adapt one of the books that received a more lukewarm reception than previously un-adapted books (in English, anyway)? It doesn’t make sense. But it exists. So, despite a copycat style that fails to resonate, does it work? Even with Alvarez’s track record thus far, the answer, it seems, is no.
This time around, Salander finds herself tied up in a web of Russian cyber criminals who are hoping to kidnap a young boy named August (Christopher Convery), as he’s the only one who holds the secrets of a nuclear attack his father (Stephen Merchant) set up. As Lisbeth hacks her way through various security breaches, occasionally getting her hands dirty and in the process gaining the attention of Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), she’s forced to gain the help of an old accomplice and occasional lover Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason). It’s convoluted, idiotic, disappointingly tame and, worst of all, completely uninteresting. While the film works off of a smaller budget, it feels much bigger in scope, but in doing so loses the humanity and themes that made the original stories work so well.
People who barely feel like characters plague the plot with inconsistencies and idiotic decisions. To overcome its primary logic flaws (nothing about this software or the nuclear weapons makes any goddamn sense!), the screenplay tries to keep things vague so you don’t overthink it, but it doesn’t give you anything or anybody to care about. They try to delve deeper into the personal side of Salander, and some interactions in the third act do have heart, but it offers very little new information on her character, and what’s there barely feels like the Lisbeth we know, even with another stellar performance from soon-to-be Oscar winner Claire Foy. The choice to make her the main character is bold and effective; something that should’ve been in place since the franchise’s beginnings, but it also gives Blomkvist nothing to do.
Blomkvist has always been a boring character, so taking away his connections to the plot makes his presence basically useless. Gudnason has nothing to work with, meaning his performance is awfully stale. Stanfield is having fun with it, and Hoeks is admirable as another underdeveloped villain in a sequel to a beloved franchise, but you can feel their potential brimming just below the surface in every scene. There’s so much that could’ve been delved into that just isn’t. It’s a surface level story with occasional glimmers of style, but nothing substantial enough to warrant my interest. When it doesn’t feel pressured into sticking with the source material greatness does unfold, especially a sequence at an airport and a great deal of the climax, but these moments are far and few between.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a major misfire. Sony has rounded up the (second) best people for the job, and yet it still results it a meandering, lifeless adaptation of a book that was barely interesting to begin with. It’s more of an action thriller than one would expect, but it doesn’t delve deep enough into its story arc for anything to resonate. Had the film been twenty to thirty minutes longer, and perhaps even a smidge darker in tone, we really could’ve understood who these characters are and what they mean to each other. It wouldn’t feel so forced, generic and devoid of life. Somewhere, out in an alternate universe, there’s a good version of this movie. And better yet, somewhere there’s a universe where David Fincher and Rooney Mara got to finish their trilogy. That’s the universe I want to live in.
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