If you go into The Girl in the Spider’s Web without knowledge of the original Lisbeth Salander novels by Stieg Larsson, you never saw the Swedish movie trilogy based on the novels, and you can’t recall the 2015 American remake with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this adventure. It’s taut, slick, and like most thrillers, full of high-tech gadgetry and breathless if implausible last second escapes.
However, if you’re familiar with the books, the Swedish films, and you’re well aware of Salander and her journalist partner, Mikael Blomkvist, then you’re going to wonder, what on earth were they thinking? The girl who hurts men who hurts women is not what she was, and neither is her story.
Since author Larson passed away in 2004 having completed only three of his intended ten book series, clearly there were more stories to tell. Author David Lagercrantz wrote a new fourth installment, it’s original Swedish title being That Which Does Not Kill Us, but changed to The Girl in the Spider’s Web for English language readers, which, from a commercial angle, makes perfect sense. It was a best seller, but again, those who read Lagercrantz’s book are going to be somewhat surprised by how it’s adapted for the screen. It’s quite the departure.
This new story picks up where the original three ended, though Hollywood is calling it a sequel to the 2015 remake but without its cast, ignoring the events of parts 2 and 3. None of that really matters. Spider’s Web is so different in tone and style that it’s really a stand-alone thriller.
Things begin well. After an opening credit sequence that resembles the stylistic Bond titles – not so much the earlier Maurice Binder designs but from the more recent sheen-polished Daniel Craig reboots – Salander (Claire Foy) is fulfilling her role as the girl with the dragon tattoo who seeks revenge on abusive men. She’s found one; a guy who beats his wife. After stringing him up by his ankles, she transfers twenty percent of his bank account to two prostitutes he beat sometime earlier with the remainder going to his wife and child. It’s a good, satisfying sequence, and it feels in line with what we know about Lisbeth Salander. It’s just the kind of thing we want to see her doing. “I just want to say, thank you,” says a female voice overheard on a radio call-in.
But then, the real story starts, and we’re suddenly thrust into a world of spies, government agents, organized crime syndicates, ruthless villains, and a piece of missile-controlling software called Firewall where a single user would be imbued with a God-like power, something Blofeld would have killed for.
And that’s the thing. Ernst Stavro Blofeld of the Bond novels and films really would have gone after this practically impenetrable program to hold the world at ransom. But those stories are told with humor and a sense of heightened reality. Salander’s tales are in the real world; here there’s little to laugh at. Turning Larsson’s anti-heroine into a Jane Bond on a motorbike doesn’t feel right. Had Daniel Craig returned as the journalist instead of Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason, with all the Bond-styled shenanigans occurring, presumably Barbara Broccoli would have been none too happy.
While Claire Foy makes a fine Salander – she’s all the more remarkable when you consider that this is the same actor who recently played Neil Armstrong’s wife in First Man and Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix series The Crown – the script calls for her to jump, leap, kick, punch, and run around at such a breakneck speed for most of the film, there’s no room for any level of character study. It’s all about keeping those launch codes out of the hands of a maniac while frantically typing faster than the speed of light to find instant answers in lieu of any real detective work. Plus Salander, with the aid of tracking devices, cell phones, laptops, and anything else that has a keyboard, manages to trap her prey in ways so incredibly well-timed, there’s no possible way she could have found the time to plan or predict a person’s movement so thoroughly as she does here. In Bond’s quirky world, sure; as Salander, heck no.
There’s a moment when Salander finally faces her psychopathic sister, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks). Tears are shed by both parties as they reflect on the sadness and regrets of their pasts, but while the film may want you to think it’s adding depth, you don’t buy it for a second. Camilla is such a ruthless, brutal killer – she just tried to murder Salander in a most sadistic manner involving a kinky looking black rubber vacuum device – that having them suddenly share an emotional moment of family intimacy amounts to nothing more than an are-you-kidding-me? moment.
Had this same film changed the names of the characters, removed the tattoos, and called it something closer to the book’s original title, this might have seemed a perfectly okay, if regular, high-tech thriller, which is why those going in with no prior knowledge should have a good time at the movies. But with Lisbeth Salander at its center, it’s like accidentally bumping into someone you haven’t seen for a few years, looking her up and down and thinking, what the hell happened to you?
MPAA Rating: R Length: 117 Minutes