THE STORY – Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.
THE CAST – Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, LaKeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks & Stephen Merchant
THE TEAM – Fede Álvarez (Director/Writer), Jay Basu & Steven Knight (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 115 Minutes
By Danilo Castro
The original Swedish-language adaptation of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” was a masterclass in discomfort. Be it the frigid winter landscapes or the psychologically scarred characters, the world of author Stieg Larsson felt dangerous and unstable, as though unspeakable acts of violence could occur at any moment. This singular mood would continue with a pair of uneven sequels, but by the time we got to the 2011 English-language remake, it was clear that complacency was starting to take up where excitement once reigned.
Which brings us to “The Girl In The Spider’s Web”; a film that falls so short of its franchise bar that to call it complacent would be a compliment. If Larsson’s source material were a square peg, and the glossy spy genre was a round hole, “Spider’s Web” is the cinematic equivalent of watching a studio trying to jam them together for two hours and hoping we don’t notice the mismatch. Unfortunately, we do.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by David Lagercrantz, who was hired to pen new stories after Larsson’s death, and the difference between their styles is evident from the jump. Whereas Larsson explored the trauma and emotional strife felt by his heroine Lisbeth Salander, Lagercrantz uses her as an empty vessel to carry out telegraphed, 007-esque adventures. The film’s opening sequence, which was teased in the trailer, is a particularly egregious example. Salander (Claire Foy) ties up an abusive businessman and coerces him into sending his bank account holdings to his wife. She concludes the transaction by tazing him in the genitals, a callback to the vengeance she laid upon her own abuser in the first “Dragon Tattoo” film.
The complex and disturbing evocations of that earlier film are flattened in order to present Salander as a rigid, selfless, and altogether more boring character. The thing that made Salander unique in the past is her ambiguity; her ambivalence towards picking a side. Here, she’s a hired gun, a superhero defined by little more than her leather wardrobe. The sequence also puts a casual spin on violence that saps the rest of the film of its dramatic weight (of which there is little to begin with).
As is so often the case in these sorts of genre misfires, the script for “Spider’s Web” starts out simple and gets increasingly busy. It’s the worst kind of snowball effect. Salander is recruited by an ex-NSA agent (Stephen Merchant) to steal access codes to a nuclear weapon, but things go awry, and she’s forced to contend with a slew of nondescript baddies who want what she knows. The baddies include an obsessed NSA operative (Lakeith Stanfield), a band of Russian thugs, and a mysterious woman (Sylvia Hoeks) who is seemingly pulling all the strings. There’s a kidnapped boy (Christopher Convery) who also gets thrown into the mix, as well as journalist Michael Blomqvist (Sverrir Gudnason), who’s only here to remind us that he was in the previous films.
The film’s trio of screenwriters; Steven Knight, Jay Basu, and Fede Álvarez, have proven themselves to be capable storytellers in the past, but they can’t seem to string together a consistent theme for more than a few scenes at a time. We swerve chaotically from grief study and familial tragedy to slick espionage and hostage standoff without so much as a warning or a tonal safety net to secure any of it. Álvarez runs into similar issues as a director. Rather than draw upon the panache of his “Evil Dead” remake or the inventive staging of “Don’t Breathe” to elevate the material, he saturates the frame with nondescript grays and coverage of the Swedish countryside that lack any sort of visual distinction. (You could swap them out with shots from “The Snowman” and I wouldn’t know the difference). Anyone could have made this film, and for a promising upstart like Álvarez, nothing could be more alarming.
Taking on the Salander mantle from Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara, Foy turns out to be the least memorable iteration to date. Salander’s disheveled appearance and cynicism are taken up a notch from the earlier films, but Foy, who can be an explosive actress at times (see her in “Unsane” if you haven’t), crumbles under limp characterization and the botched execution of her writers. It never feels as though she becomes one with the Salander persona, but rather imitates it, right down to the flimsy accent and the nonexistent chemistry she exhibits with Blomqvist. Her lack of conviction makes it painfully easy to dismiss her in what is supposed to be a star vehicle.
In truth, I found myself wishing that Hoeks (who gets wasted as a villain) would have been chosen to play Salander instead. She possesses the kind of steely nerve and raw sensitivity that would’ve perfectly suited Larsson’s original vision on the screen. That’s not to say that her casting would have saved the film outright, but it certainly would have been an improvement.
“The Girl In The Spider’s Web” isn’t the first bad sequel to come out in 2018, but it may wind up being the most unpleasant. It is a passionless, tedious take on a genre that is driven by passion and excitement, and it drags an iconic character along for the ride. Next time, let’s hope she hitches one going in the other direction.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The supporting cast is enjoyable, particularly Lakeith Stanfield as an NSA operative and Sylvia Hoeks as a mysterious villain.
THE BAD – The tone of the film is a mess. The writing flattens the characters and their motivations from the previous installment, and Foy is out of her depth in the titular role.
THE OSCARS – None
THE FINAL SCORE – 3/10