The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)
Directed by Fede Alvarez
There’s been exactly one good Lisbeth Salander story put to film. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which introduces us to the hacker, was the only one of the original 2009 Swedish films worth the significant time investment it asked of viewers. Director David Fincher made it even better when he remade it with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig in 2011. The beauty of those adaptations lies in the simple story, which centered around a decades-old cold case. In the second and third Swedish films, Salander’s (played by Noomi Rapace) story delves into the soap operatic, and she spends less and less time with her investigative partner Mikael Blomkvist (played by the late Michael Nyqvist). But nothing could’ve prepared me for the absolutely ridiculous “save the world” plot of director Fede Alvarez’s (“Don’t Breathe”) “The Girl in the Spider Web,” based on the first Lisbeth Salander novel not written by Stieg Larsson (who died in 2004 at the age of 50).
Previous movies had had high stakes, and family drama, but nothing quite as high-stakes or dramatic as this. When Salander (Claire Foy, messing up another accent) is asked to steal back a nuclear arms program from the NSA, she pisses off an American agent (Lakeith Stanfield) and piques the interest of a group of people (including Salander’s long-lost sister, played by Sylvia Hoeks) who crave the power it would give them. Salander recruits Blomkvist (now played by Sverrir Gudnason) for help…obviously. But as the film weaves its way through Sweden, it loses any semblance of reality the original story might have had.
Claire Foy plays a notably watered-down version of the goth hero we’ve all admired/scratched our heads at. No face piercings, no foot-tall mohawk, no dog collar chokers, and no nudity. If it’s an attempt to make Salander more relatable, it failed. Foy’s silly Swedish accent convinced me that it was time for her to stick to British characters. In “Unsane” (which I otherwise loved) Foy’s weird Boston/Philly accent had a few very obvious British slip-ups. In “First Man” (still one of the best movies of the year), her Midwest accent was straight-up distracting. Here, it feels like she’s trying way too hard. At the risk of echoing the majority of critics, at least her parts are still better than her costar Gudnason’s. Thankfully, Blomkvist is given a lesser role this time around, but the Icelandic actor’s scenes were laughable. He just doesn’t hold a candle to either Nyqvist or Daniel Craig. Gudnason feels like he was plucked off the street and given about five minutes to prepare.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” gave viewers enough evidence to theoretically guess the ending, or some version of it. Larsson’s skills as a writer of thrillers were evident, and both of the movie adaptations followed pretty closely to the book and to each other. In “Spider’s Web,” so far removed from that original Salander story, the plot seems to try to one-up itself scene upon scene. But in doing so—and in doing so in thirty fewer minutes than most of the movies before it—“Spider’s Web” makes use of plot contrivances that make you roll your eyes at almost every scene. A conveniently placed bottle of pills or a too-clever hacker fix move the plot along at a brisker pace than humanly possible. It defies physics and common sense. Salander and Blomkvist really worked for the ending of “Dragon Tattoo.” In “Spider’s Web,” everything seems to be in the right place at the right time for the plot to move forward. It becomes really silly. And since the story is just going through the motions, and they don’t bother to build upon the characters of Salander or Blomkvist in any real way, you don’t care what happens to them in the end. It feels like “Spider’s Web” is just riding the coattails of the successful adaptations that came before, hoping you cared enough about the characters then to keep it going even if they don’t give enough reciprocal effort.
I’m again reminded that David Fincher adapted the only Salander story that was worth putting on the big screen. I enjoyed Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” remake and “Don’t Breathe,” but “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” was a misstep.