THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB ½
R, 117 mins.
2018, R, 117 mins.
Claire Foy as Lisbeth Salander / Sverrir Gudnason as Mikael Blomkvist / Sylvia Hoeks as Camilla Salander / LaKeith Stanfield as Edwin Needham / Stephen Merchant as Frans Balder / Vicky Krieps as Erika Berger / Christopher Convery as August Balder / Claes Bang as Jan Holster
Directed by Fede Alvarez / Written by Alvarez, Jay Basu, Steven and Knight, based on the book of the same name by David Lagercrantz
Considering our current Me Too movement era, a cinematic return to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO series would seem positively fitting.
The franchise was
born out of author Stieg Larsson's best selling literary works, which
introduced the world to its ferociously empowered female hacker heroine
Lisbeth Salander. The novels
spawned a Swedish film trilogy and featured Noomi Rapace in a career jump
starting performance as Salander that put her on the map.
Her performance of raw animalistic potency allowed for this
character to climb the upper echelon ladder as one of the most memorable
female screen protagonists of recent memory.
Then came the inevitable David
Fincher helmed American remake, which arguably was just as dark
and oppressive as the international iteration and featured Rooney Mara in
the Salander role, paying both respect to Rapace's work while making the
role all her own in the process.
Although I had my
share of issues with Fincher's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, I was
impressed with his always confident stylistic trappings and how much
unnerving edge the film had in comparison to the Swed import (it really
pushed the boundaries of the R rating).
Unfortunately, tepid box office performance put the new proposed
American series on hold, which, of course, leads me to the new installment
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB, which is both a soft reboot of the Fincher
series in the sense that the entire cast and crew has been gutted, but
nevertheless remains a direct follow-up sequel to the 2010 film.
This new retooled sequel takes its inspiration, like the previous
films, from the book of the same name (this time not written by Larsson
himself, but rather
David Lagercrantz) and features DON'T
BREATHE director Fede Alvarez pinch hitting for Fincher and Claire
Foy as a Mara substitute for Salander.
Despite ample talent on board for this fifth DRAGON TATTOO film, it
regretfully fails to capture the cerebral intrigue of its predecessors, not to
mention that it distractingly soft pedals a re-brand of the tone and feel
of the series into obligatory hacker thriller fare.
THE GIRL IN THE
SPIDER'S WEB continues the Lisbeth Salander Americanized saga, which takes
place roughly three years after the events of Fincher's film and shows the
titular protagonist working as a sort of nocturnal and in-the-shadows
vigilante that achieves serious comeuppance on deplorable men that have
wronged women in their lives in one nasty way or another (the opening
scene shows her harnessing a vile corporate crook up by his legs and
electronically transferring his assets to the wife that he routinely
beats...followed by tasering him to the balls).
When not beating, humiliating, and tormented men that absolutely had
it coming to them, Lisbeth still does hacker jobs on the side, and early
on she's offered an extremely difficult job from a former NSA employee (a
refreshingly cast against type Stephen Merchant) that wants Lisbeth to
take back a special program called "Firewall" that gives its
user the ability to fire any nuke in the world.
The former government man did, in fact, create it, but now regrets
its power and it falling into the wrong hands.
predictably more complicated for Lisbeth when it clearly appears that more
people want this device, on both sides of the law, which leads to her
hooking back up with her former partner and lover in journalist Mikael
Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig before, now Sevrrir Gudnason), who
agrees to once again assist Lisbeth and hopefully net a big story on his
end. Realizing that trusting
anyone beyond Mikael is becoming increasingly difficult, Lisbeth finds
herself working overtime to retrieve Firewall, eventually teaming up with
a semi-rogue NSA agent, Edwin (SORRY
TO BOTHER YOU's Lakeith Stanfeld), to uncover a vast conspiracy of
nefarious enemies that want the program via an any-means-necessary
approach, which eventually forces Lisbeth to come to grips with the real
villain of the film (Sylvia Hoeks), who is revealed to have deep personal
ties with Lisbeth that places her in a crisis of conscience unlike any
she's experienced before.
Two things make
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB a worthy franchise entry: (1) Solid
production design and some wonderfully stylized visual flourishes and (2)
Foy's quietly commanding presence in the lead role.
As for the former, Alvarez manages to mimic Fincher's overall
aesthetic from his film while trying to cement this series in a more
traditional spy film milieu (the opening title card sequence of this film,
quite wonderfully orchestrated, has clear cut echoes of similar ones from
the James Bond series). The film also makes usage of its cold, wintering settings
to proper atmospheric effect. As
for the former, Foy has the difficult performance challenge of trying to
cement the Salander role as uniquely her own coming off the brilliant
turns from Rapace and Mara respectively before her.
Salander remains as tough as nails and hungrily determined as ever,
but Foy (so good recent in films like FIRST MAN
and the underrated UNSANE) crafts a more
understated portrait of this brilliant and tenacious hacker while still
showing her vulnerable side. Foy
has a steely eyed focus here that's commendable and does the iconic
character justice; she holds this film together.
One of my main
problems, though, with THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB, though, is with the
presentation of the Salander character herself.
Foy gives it her all with what she's given here, but the
screenplay essentially and frustratingly takes this persona far away from
what made her really tick with intrigue beforehand.
In past films she was someone unfortunately characterized by sexual
traumas that fought against her male scumbag persecutors.
That's what fuelled her feminist rage.
Now, she's essentially been reduced to a dime-a-dozen action super
hero/vigilante that feels like she belongs in her own comic book inspired
film. That seems like an awful
psychological step back for this character, and the overall 007-inspired
espionage vibe on display seems incongruent with the true essence of this
character and the films she's populating.
Even her hacker abilities - and near physical imperviousness at
times - strains modest credulity throughout the movie, to the point of
pulling me out of it and uncomfortably pushing me away.
misstep is with the central relationship with Lisbeth and Mikael as well, which is
kind of almost added in here as a short-sighted afterthought and not as
fully developed and expanded upon as it should have been.
Now, I did find Daniel Craig somewhat miscast in Fincher's film
(see my review of it for more detail as to why), so I kind of welcome the
more regionally appropriate Gudnason in the role, but he's mournfully so
vanilla bland and lacking in on-screen charisma that you have to wonder
why he was cast in the first place (this is too bad, because he was quite
sensational in the under seen BORG VS
MCENROE from earlier this year).
Even though I thought Craig was a poor fit for this part, both he
and Mara still had sizzling chemistry together, which is simply not on
display between Gudnason and Foy, who seem to force themselves to make
their on-again, off-again couple feel relatable authentic as a troubled
The script really
does no one any favors this go around either, especially in relation to
the reveal of the main baddie, which can be seen coming from a proverbial
mile away (that, and it was unforgivably spoiled by the film's misguided
and shockingly spoiler heavy trailer campaign).
The screenplay makes clear cut attempts to move away from being
psychologically compelling and instead thrusts heavily into perfunctory
action and global thriller mode, which seems like a misstep when one
considers how the cat and mouse procedural elements of the other films
helped pave the way. Lastly,
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB simply doesn't have has much edgy nerve as
the previous American and Swedish films and seems altogether reticent at
exploring the darker underbelly of its characters, their dynamics, and the
sickening family ordeals that typifies Lisbeth and, in turn, how that relates to
the main villain. Everything
here seems to be moving along on safe and pedestrian autopilot, something
that could never bee said about Fincher's remake or the Swedish trilogy.
I can maybe understand the makers' intent here in wanting to make the further adventures of Lisbeth Salander more, shall we say, audience friendly and easy to digest for further box office gains. Again, there's a James Bondification of this franchise that's sort of unwelcome as well as being tonally disingenuous. More often than not, the Salander of THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB feels like she belongs more in her own darker MCU film than she does as a natural continuation of what has come before in her own series. That's too bad, because Alvarez has got the goods as a filmmaker to make a worthwhile DRAGON TATTOO sequel, and Foy is such an exceptional headstrong and assured actress that she seems like a pitch perfect match for her body art laden heroine. All of the previous films in this series have lingered and stayed with me, in one form or another. They also got under my skin with their twisted perversity. THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB feels pretty interchangeable with other globetrotting spy genre films these days that I probably won't be thinking about it much in the weeks to come, other than to recall it for being pretty flavorless and blandly generic.