Time: 115 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence, cruelty & content that may disturb
Claire Foy as Lisbeth Salander
Sverrir Gudnason as Mikael Blomkvist
LaKeith Stanfield as Edwin Needham
Sylvia Hoeks as Camilla Salander
Stephen Merchant as Frans Balder
Vicky Krieps as Erika Berger
Claes Bang as Jan Holtser
Director: Fede Álvarez
Fired from the National Security Agency, Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) recruits hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) to steal FireFall, a computer program that can access codes for nuclear weapons worldwide. The download soon draws attention from an NSA agent who traces the activity to Stockholm. Further problems arise when Russian thugs take Lisbeth’s laptop and kidnap a math whiz who can make FireFall work. Now, Lisbeth and an unlikely ally must race against time to save the boy and recover the codes to avert disaster.
Let’s just say that I had some very mixed feelings going into The Girl in the Spider’s Web. I loved David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it was so well put together and Rooney Mara was a perfect Lisbeth Salander. I haven’t watched the Swedish trilogy but I’m sure it’s great as well. Let’s just say that I was a little ticked off that not only was Sony skipping the adaptations of the second and third books, none of the cast or Fincher would be returning to be a part of it, really a wasted opportunity. But despite this, I decided to give this newer movie a chance, I decided to treat it like it’s the own thing. It still had some talented people involved, with Claire Foy and Sylvia Hoeks starring and Evil Dead remake and Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez helming the movie. Even when I put Fincher’s version out of my mind, things still weren’t looking all that great from the trailers, seeming more like a generic action thriller and looked like it was turning Lisbeth Salander into a superhero or a spy. I just had a really bad feeling about it but I still decided to check it out for myself. Long story short it ended up being better and worse than I thought it would be, with much of my fears of the movie coming true. The Girl in the Spider’s web definitely has some good parts to it and is entertaining but it is held back by a script and story which is trying too hard to be an action spy movie. Ultimately it doesn’t work as a Lisbeth Salander movie and it doesn’t work that much better as its own movie either.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is better when seen on its own, in that when it comes to the plot/writing, I’m going to talk separately about it as a sequel/reboot, and then as a movie. First of all, it is based off of The Girl in the Spider’s Web book, I know that they changed some things but I haven’t read the book so I can’t exactly comment on how much was changed and whether it was for the better or worse. Sony was really trying to push the movie as a sequel to the Fincher film, to the point where the title is really ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story’ (no way anyone is calling it that), which is a terrible idea because it’s a reboot with a completely different tone and takes on characters. Let’s just say for this movie, I’m glad that none of the original cast returned for it, because they would be completely out of place with this story and what’s being done with the characters. Whereas the Fincher film, presumably the Swedish movies and the previous 3 books were more dark mystery thrillers, this is a straight up action spy thriller. This movie all surrounds FireFall, a computer program that can access all nuclear weapons ever (and I mean like worldwide). This is far removed from the gritty and grim stories from the books, and is an attempt at being an espionage spy movie. Though to be fair, part of that falls on the writer of The Girl in the Spider’s Web book, David Lagercrantz (not written by the original trilogy of novels Stieg Larsson). Where Stieg Larsson explored trauma and the emotional pain that Lisbeth Salander suffered from, Lagercrantz pretty much tried to make a spy story with Lisbeth Salander, so it’s not all the screenwriters’ fault, it’s just they leaned in heavy with the spy aspect, maybe a little too much. Thankfully there isn’t a sequence where Lisbeth has a limited amount of time to press a button to stop all nuclear weapons from launching or anything like that, but it nonetheless feels a little silly. The silliness doesn’t just stop at the plot though, the movie itself has some pretty silly moments. I mean like at the end of the first act, you see Lisbeth drive a motorcycle off a bridge onto a frozen pond and drive to the other side on ice (which has no friction by the way) without the ice completely breaking under the weight of the motorcycle. The other stories are usually set in some form of reality but Lisbeth here is pretty much flawless with everything, especially hacking anything, doing impossible things. As for Lisbeth herself… I’ll address that when I talk about Claire Foy’s performance, because there’s a lot to talk about. The story is really sanitised as well. I don’t need to have like 5 graphic rape scenes or anything, but the general vibe of the story and scenes doesn’t feel right. It feels like they were trying to make it as accessible as possible for the general audience, while it certainly is more accessible, I don’t think it was really worth it. Honestly if you tone down some of the blood, violence and language, The Girl in the Spider’s Web could easily pass as a PG-13/M rating movie. Again, graphic content doesn’t guarantee that it will be good, but sanitising it to make it more into a conventional blockbuster removes a lot of the series’ identity.
Treating the movie on its own, I’ll say that you’ll enjoy the movie much more if you haven’t watched the other movies or read the books. There aren’t any references to the previous movies or stories, so its not like you’re missing a lot. With that being said, since this movie doesn’t really explore or develop Lisbeth and Mikael, you’ll feel like you are missing some bits of story with them. I will admit that the first act started off okay, it had some silly moments and issues but I was enjoying it and I was on board with what was going on. After Lisbeth manages to survive an explosion however, from that point onwards the movie started sinking in quality, with occasional brief sparks of potential and solid moments. I was personally entertained throughout but it’s not because of the story by any means, the story itself is not really interesting, the writing is very messy and given Fede Alvarez and Steven Knight’s prior work, I’m not sure what happened here. The movie feels very repetitive, Lisbeth achieves something, there’s a convenient set back, rinse and repeat. There’s also nothing particularly compelling in the movie, the characters aren’t interesting and don’t progress or change at all(not even Lisbeth), the story is really predictable (there really weren’t any surprises at all) and you just don’t care about what’s going on with the characters or the story. Every time they start to add some emotional weight to the story, they cut it off too quickly by either moving on with the plot or jumping to an action scene. This is a movie that is all plot and no characters, the movie merely uses the characters to progress the story forward and that’s it. It’s almost like what we have here is an adaptation of a pretty decent first draft of the actual script that needed more revisions with depth before filming. By the end of the movie, you don’t care who ends up with FireFall, you’re just watching what’s happening with no investment in the story or the characters. There are a lot of conveniences as well, whether that being everything somehow working in favour for Lisbeth (or she’s superhuman, that seems equally likely) or things that could’ve been easily stopped holding her back from sorting out all her problems quickly. It’s worth noting that every character outside of Lisbeth is not smart at all, and there are many moments showing all of this. One of the most unintentional funny moments was when Mikael makes a breakthrough in his investigation… because he’s told by someone that a word that he found out is Russian. In fact there are many moments which are unintentionally funny. One of them was in the third act that involves a car crash, which is so absurd and anti-climatic that I couldn’t believe that the writers actually did that (you’ll know what I mean when you see it). Then there’s a bag scene that takes place in a hospital that’s so… bizarrely convoluted and randomly hilarious. I will say to the movie’s credit, some of its absurd moments did at least make the experience more entertaining. Thankfully this movie moves at a fast enough pace that it doesn’t give you a chance to be bored. Even when seen as its own movie, The Girl in the Spider’s Web still has a bunch of issues but it’s slightly less frustrating than when you consider it a part of the Lisbeth Salander series.
Claire Foy is one of the two main reasons this movie still manages to be somewhat okay. She does give a good performance as Lisbeth Salander, and she really does elevate her character. Now I say this, but it really is a bad sign when an actress playing Lisbeth Salander has to elevate the character, because it means that she wasn’t well written, which is the case here. There is problems with her character and it has nothing to do with Foy, again she elevated the writing of her character, giving it more than it deserved. This version of Lisbeth Salander is like people saw a brief summary of her, reading about how she rides a motorcycle, she’s a hacker, wears black and has a bit of a dark past and most of all that she’s ‘cool’ and they just ran with that. It’s such a shallow interpretation of this very unique character. I knew there was cause for concern when Fede Alvarez compared Lisbeth Salander to Batman, aside from the fact that one doesn’t compare Lisbeth to other characters (you compare other characters to Lisbeth Salander rather), but she is her own character and thing, and they shouldn’t be trying to make her like a superhero. Despite it delving into her past (for like the second half of the movie) we don’t really get to learn much more about Salander, and we don’t see her develop over the course of the story. Like with the story, they really did hold back with the disturbing aspects about her. By lessening the darker aspects and making her easier to like, you remove much of her uniqueness and you make her into a 2 dimensional ‘strong female character’ (and by that I mean the almost most generic version of a ‘strong female character’ that you could come up with). All the complex and disturbing aspects of Salander have been trimmed down so that she would appear as a rigid, selfless and more heroic character, and a result this made her a more boring character. Like I mentioned earlier, she fares better when not seen as Lisbeth Salander and rather as another character entirely, but she still feels lacking in some interesting aspects for other audiences to really latch onto her completely. She doesn’t really become one with the character of Salander, seeming to more imitate the persona more than anything. This is the only time I’m going to compare the other Lisbeths to Foy’s but the other versions seemed really intimidating and you don’t see the actress but rather the character they are being. Claire Foy’s version looks punk and ‘badass’ and all that but there’s not really a big presence with her it, not really intimidating, and you just see Foy playing the character more than actually being her. Claire Foy deserved a lot better than this, in a better written role, she could’ve been even better. I will say that Claire Foy is believable in the physical and action sections, she handled these scenes greatly. Foy’s performance thankfully elevates the character and movie quite a bit, on the whole though, this new interpretation of Lisbeth doesn’t add anything new or interesting, aside from doing more action and being more funny I guess…? (if you classify making a program flip the bird after hacking something or filling a bag full of dildos funny, no really, that happens in the movie as well).
The rest of the cast just didn’t work as well as Foy, it’s not their fault however, its more so the writing of their characters and how they were utilised in the story. Mikael Blomkvist is an important character in the books and the prior movies, with him pretty much being the secondary lead along with Lisbeth. In The Girl in the Spider’s Web however, he’s more of a supporting player. He actually did more in the plot than other reviews of this movie have implied, but it still feels weird for him not to do much. Him ‘doing stuff’ in the movie is him basically doing research and investigating certain things, though it’s so small and easy for him to do that you could’ve almost given the scenes to Lisbeth and just cut him out of the movie entirely. It’s like he’s only here because he’s an important character in the books and they had to come up with some things for him to do. I guess there wasn’t a huge problem with him being in a supporting role (outside of it being jarring), but outside of his first scene, it’s like he’s not nothing going on in his life at all, like Lisbeth and what she’s doing is the only thing he’s really focussed on throughout the movie (as I said ago with this movie, all plot, no characters). What is a bit of a problem is that the whole Lisbeth/Mikael dynamic doesn’t feel real or genuine at all. It’s mentioned a few times in the story that they had history together but the way they act it’s like they only just met, there’s no chemistry between them whatsoever, so the scenes when they interact with each other just fall flat. With that said, actor Sverrir Gudnason still does his best with this role, he’s definitely not the problem here. LaKeith Stanfield plays an NSA agent tracking Lisbeth after she steals FireFall. Stanfield does a good job with his performance but his character for like half the movie feels rather pointless, he’s trying to get to Lisbeth but not even getting anywhere close, constantly failing and so you’re left to wonder why he’s even in the movie if he adds nothing to it. The only reason he’s even in the first half is to set him up for being somewhat involved with the plot in the second half, which is when he actually does things. Stephen Merchant doesn’t get to do a lot of anything here but he’s good with the scenes he’s in. Fresh off her excellent performance in Phantom Thread (one of the best performances of 2017 in fact), Vicky Krieps is in this movie… playing a supporting character’s (Mikael) love interest for like 4-5 scenes, with 3 of them actually having her talking, ultimately not really serving anything to the plot at all. One thing that I was looking forward to was the villain played by Sylvia Hoeks. I would refrain from spoilers but since the trailers have already spoiled it plenty of times (and it’s easy to figure out anyway in the movie) I won’t hide it either, she plays Camilla Salander, Lisbeth’s sister. Though I didn’t read the book, Hoeks sounded like a great pick for her character, especially after her scene stealing villainous performance in Blade Runner 2049. However, she is so incredibly underutilised in the movie. She shows up halfway into the movie, and for a character who shares such a history with Lisbeth, they needed more scenes together. Even flashbacks with the character in childhood would’ve added something. Camilla is not interesting, and is really just a ‘burn the world’ villain, all dressed up in bright red and all around she feels like a mid tier Bond villain, specifically like Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld from Spectre. The two have a lot of similarities, and just know that when I say that I mean that in a bad way (if you’ve seen Spectre, you know what I’m talking about). With some of the confrontation scenes between her and Lisbeth, you can tell that the movie wants you to care about what’s going on but there aren’t enough scenes with them together that you just don’t, so it falls flat. Particularly the most annoying scene is the final scene with them together, because had we cared about the two of them up to that point, it really could’ve been a very impactful scene but it wasn’t at all, I felt nothing. Sylvia Hoeks does play up the role and is good with what little she has, she may be a little over the top at times but at least she’s trying her best. I’m not sure how it’s possible for one film to mishandle absolutely every character they had (not to mention the very talented cast they had), but The Girl in the Spider’s Web somehow manages to achieve that.
Fede Alvarez was the other reason this movie manages to be okay. He was an interesting pick for the movies, known for his horrors with Don’t Breathe and the Evil Dead remake. I was a tad worried cos from the trailers the movie seemed to look like it Fincher-lite direction. However, he actually did a good job, though it does feel like he was held back a little. Earlier I was saying about how I was always entertained and that was because of Alvarez’s direction, he injects every scene with energy that has you paying enough attention to what’s going on. The cinematography by Pedro Luque looks beautiful as well. I will say thought that I’m a little disappointed that despite Alvarez’s previous films, we don’t really get much horror elements, except for maybe a couple moments in the third act. With that said, there are still some well directed moments, one of which is of Lisbeth directly after a fight in the second act. As much as I dislike that there is action in the movie (and a considerable amount of these scenes), the action scenes are generally filmed pretty well. With that said, there are some fight scenes which are a little hard to follow what’s going on sometimes, with some shaky cam and a bunch of cuts, and it can be frustrating.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is such a mixed bag. On one hand, Claire Foy gives a good performance (despite being held back quite a bit by the writing) and Fede Alvarez does add a lot to the movie with his directing. On the other hand, without them the movie would’ve just been rather average and forgettable (or at least more forgettable than it is already). And all my problems don’t come from this the fact that it doesn’t have Rooney Mara, or David Fincher, or any of the 2011 film’s cast and crew, these are all issues that I have with it as a Lisbeth Salander movie and as a movie on its own. I know I’ve gone on about a lot of problems that I had (this review is definitely way longer than I initially intended it to be), mainly with it as a Lisbeth Salander movie, though I am aware that if you aren’t such a fan of the character or stories, this probably won’t bother you that much. With all that said, despite its many issues I wouldn’t say that it’s a bad movie per se, I was entertained more than I thought I would be and there are some legitimately good parts to is. If you haven’t read the books or watched the other movies but like how The Girl in the Spider’s Web looks, I’d say give it a watch, though it’s still got a lot of issues. I’m not quite sure what to say if you liked the other movies, except that if you are die hard fans of the books, you are probably going to have a ton of issues with the movie. I’ll just say that it’s not bad but not good either, and not the Lisbeth Salander or story that you know and love. If Sony tries to make another live action Lisbeth Salander story adaptation, I can say with certainty that it won’t be a film sequel to The Girl in the Spider’s Web.