Girl in the Spider's Web, The (U.S.A./U.K./Sweden, 2018)

November 08, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Girl in the Spider's Web, The Poster

When Stieg Larsson died unexpectedly in 2004, he left behind three novels that would become worldwide sensations only after his death. The trilogy, which began in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, introduced Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gunnason) and antisocial hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy), a pair who formed an unlikely partnership as a result of circumstances. Two movie versions of the first book were made: a low-budget 2009 Swedish iteration starring Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth and the late Michael Nyqvist as Mikael, and a major Hollywood production (directed by David Fincher) with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. The Swedish film was followed by two sequels: The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Although there were plans for a similar continuation of the American series, the tepid box office performance of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo put these on hold. Now, seven years later, Sony has elected to traverse the “re-boot” route, positioning The Girl in the Spider’s Web (based on the first non-Larsson book) as a sequel to the Fincher film, albeit with an all-new cast.

Claire Foy becomes the third actress to play Lisbeth; she holds her own opposite the conflicted Rooney Mara interpretation and the physical Noomi Rapace one. (I prefer Mara’s Lisbeth, with her complex blend of fragility and fury, to the other two, but all offer unique perspectives of one of the most fascinating female protagonists of the new century.) However, although Lisbeth was the standout in all the other Millennium movies, there was always a sense of partnership (romantic and functional) between her and Mikael. In The Girl in the Spider’s Web, he’s an afterthought. Little attention is paid to advancing the personal relationship between the two and he’s treated more like an obligatory throw-in than a necessary character. It doesn’t help that Sverrir Gunnason’s performance is dull and uncharismatic.

The screenplay, which was written by director Fede Alvarez (who previously helmed the disappointing remake of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead), Jay Basu, and Steven Knight from Lagercrantz’s first foray into Millennium territory (he has since written another novel and is working on a third), opens with a prologue set approximately two decades prior to the film’s main action. In it, we are introduced to a young Lisbeth (played as a girl by Beau Gadsdon) and her sister, Camilla (Carlotta von Falkenhayn, and later as an adult, Sylvia Hoeks), and their creepy, abusive, gangster father. With a daring leap, Lisbeth escapes his clutches while Camilla stays behind. The two sisters don’t reunite until many years later.

In modern-day Sweden, Lisbeth has developed a reputation as a talented cybercriminal who uses her skills to avenge and protect abused women. She enjoys challenges and, when she is approached with the opportunity to steal a super-secret computer program (capable of overriding failsafe procedures and controlling every nuclear weapon in the world) from the NSA, she accepts. The scientist who created it, Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), wants it back so he can destroy it. The U.S. government, led by NSA agent Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), wants to maintain control of it. And a criminal syndicate will stop at nothing to get it. Once Lisbeth has it, she makes herself a target and, after her laptop is pilfered, she must not only retrieve it and protect Balder and his young son but avoid capture by the authorities. Needing help, she contacts her old friend, Mikael Blomkvist, with whom she has “trust” issues stemming from their previous interactions.

Distilled to its essence, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a generic espionage/crime thriller. Although briskly paced, the plot is far from airtight and demands a deus ex machina to reach its climax. The film has some of the relentless energy that characterizes the Mission: Impossible movie series but lacks the high-wire stunt work and edge-of-the-seat action sequences. One of the most memorable aspects of Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – the brooding, claustrophobic atmosphere – is mostly absent. Sweden is a cold place but Alvarez, more interesting in making a straightforward action-thriller, has neither the time nor patience to make the setting more than window dressing.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web isn’t likely to bore anyone. If anything, there’s too much going on and too many characters for a sub-two hour movie. However, as interesting as Lisbeth is, the story doesn’t do justice to her abilities and the uniqueness of her character, and Mikael might as well not be in the film for all that he adds to the proceedings. The plot doesn’t offer many surprises – the “reveal” of a turncoat is all-too-predictable – although the scenes between Lisbeth and Camilla work as effective tragedy and, during a scene when she explains the reasons for her anger and resentment, there’s a legitimate sense of pathos.

Most of all, The Girl in the Spider’s Web feels like the inferior and unnecessary return of characters whose time has passed. As compelling an individual as Lisbeth is (especially in the “metoo” era), she deserves better than what she’s given by this story.

Girl in the Spider's Web, The (U.S.A./U.K./Sweden, 2018)

Run Time: 1:57
U.S. Release Date: 2018-11-09
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Content)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1