THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER WEB lacks the sexual fetish and cinematic beauty of the original.
By Matt Cummings
Once upon a time, there was an interesting book series called Millennium that got made into a parade of Swedish movies with the reformatted title, THE GIRL WITH… This violent and disturbing crime thriller series was eventually acquired by Sony and rebooted into the great 2011 movie THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Now that you’re caught up, it’s best to just watch those movies again, and ignore that the followup THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB is soon to be released. It’s a faint and uninspired competitor to Fincher’s film, devoid of the sexual beauty and raw explosiveness which made TATTOO such a mesmerizing experience.
As computer-hacker-turned-female-vigilante Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) continues her reign of man-hating terror across Sweden, the choices of her past continue to haunt. Having rejected the perverse life which her sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) accepted, Lisbeth has emerged a sexually and emotionally damaged person. She maintains few relationships and constantly finds herself in dark clubs before heading off to another “job.” Her newest is to steal a top-secret program that can control any nuclear missile on the planet, even if it doesn’t belong to you. Soon, Lisbeth, the developer (Steven Merchant), and Lisbeth’s journalist friend (Sverrir Gudnason) are engulfed in an international incident that threatens to destabilize into nuclear war. It soon becomes clear that Lisbeth must do more than simply destroy the program but protect the young prodigy August (Christopher Convery), whose extraordinary abilities are somehow tied to it.
WEB already sounds like a rehash of the really good J-Law spy seductress RED SPARROW or even the seminal sexual throwdown ATOMIC BLONDE. Director Fede Alvarez does his best to duplicate the environment established by TATTOO director David Fincher, but it’s all for generally not. Alvarez is far more interested in making a twisty affair with implausible action than a great character study with terrific violence. WEB is also a victim of poor marketing: nothing in the trailers suggests that you need to see TATTOO in order to appreciate what Alvarez is trying to accomplish; but failure to do so will make you think that 20-30 minutes of the movie was edited away. With that said, WEB is filled with implausible action and enough cheap JAMES BOND plot devices (a nuclear “key?” Really?!) to make you realize just how hollow this effort truly is.
All of sudden, Claire Foy seems to be everywhere. Not the first (or even the third) choice to play Lisbeth, Foy does manage to look the part and it’s the best element of the film. When she’s not around, it’s like watching 2017’s THE SNOWMAN, and if you don’t know what that means just assume it’s bad. I’ve loved Hoeks since she burst on the scene as Luv in BLADE RUNNER 2049, and here she plays Camilla with the same intensity. However, her intentions aren’t really clear and we have more questions by the end of the film that we don’t necessarily care to answer. But it’s clear that the overall quality of the actors has declined since TATTOO, with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara replaced with Gudnason and Foy.
I think the concept of the GIRL series is fascinating: a strong, independent woman struggling to balance her “specific set of skills” with the situations that brought her to them. Yeah, Lisbeth is damaged sexually and emotionally, and yeah she’s trying to make up for all the harm that’s been done to her, but who really cares if the final product doesn’t take the time to engage audiences in that emotional story telling? In WEB we’re just observers to Lisbeth’s talents one minute and then her complete idiotic decisions the next. As her mistakes begin to pile up, it wears on our ability to actually like her. There’s also issues behind the extraordinary intellect of August. In many ways, he’s the most interesting element of WEB, but he’s minimized as a plot point instead of celebrated as a boy who faces enormous loss and whose intellect needs to be protected at all costs. Here he’s just a safe to be cracked to get the laptop. Lame.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you’re looking for turn-off-your-brain action, I’d suggest watching HUNTER KILLER instead, and enjoy the older (and far better) GIRL films at home. If you decide to see THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB, definitely watch TATTOO first. Sans one great sniper scene, WEB treads water throughout, never reaching the emotional or physical highs which made TATTOO so enjoyable. For all its problems, at least HUNTER KILLER knows what it is. WEB seems lost in dark clubs with half-empty drinks waiting for someone to finish them.
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB is rated R for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity and has runtime of 117 minutes.