THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Fede Alvarez

Stars: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Sylvie Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, Lakeith Stanfield, Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps, Mikael Persbrandt, Christopher Convery.

Claire Foy in The Girl in the Spider's Web (2018)The Girl In The Spider’s Web is the fourth installment in the Millennium series of dark and misogynistic Scandinavian crime thrillers created by the late Stieg Larsson, who died of a heart attack in 2004. The novels centred around Lisbeth Salander, an unlikely anti-heroine for the twentieth century – a tattooed and heavily pierced computer hacker who had survived traumatic sexual and physical abuse and who delivers punishment to men who abuse women. The first three novels were initially filmed in Sweden, yielding some dark and edgy and brutal thrillers which reached a world-wide audience. In 2011 David Fincher directed an American remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which followed closely the Swedish original, and replaced Noomi Rapace with Rooney Mara in the lead role. But, unfortunately, given its lack of box office success the studio failed to follow through with the expected sequels.

Following Larsson’s death, the publishers approached David Lagercrantz, a former Swedish crime reporter, to take up the reins of the series and to craft a new novel using his characters and general scenario. His 2015 novel The Girl In The Spider’s Web takes up the story, but it lacks the gritty edge, nihilistic tone and dark heart of the Larsson original, which also tackled the corruption at the heart of Swedish society. This is something of a soft reboot of the franchise. Claire Foy (from First Man, etc) now steps into the shoes of Lisbeth Salander, but she seems a bad fit for the character, especially for those familiar with the novels. In fact, this adaptation screen writers Jay Basu (Fast Girls, etc), veteran Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, etc) and director Fede Alvarez (the thriller Don’t Breathe, etc) have taken enormous liberties with the material and the film differs markedly from the source novel. The film does tap into some topical themes though.

Salander is still a vigilante rescuing abused wives from their partners and seeking justice against men who hurt women. She comes into contact with Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant, from The Office, etc), a disillusioned former NSA computer programmer who had developed a program called Firewall. The program has the capacity to access all the nuclear codes around the world, and Balder wants Lisbeth’s help is retrieving if from the NSA’s mainframe and destroying it because he believes it is too dangerous.  In agreeing to help Balder and his autistic young son August (Christopher Convery) though Lisbeth finds herself caught up in a web of international intrigue, cybercrime, government corruption and a murderous conspiracy. At the heart of the conspiracy is the criminal group known as the Spider Society, comprising of former Russian criminals, which is being run by Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks, from Blade Runner 2049), Lisbeth’s estranged and long-lost sister who has taken over her father’s criminal network.

There are several gaping holes in the complicated and convoluted plot, but Uruguay-born director Alvarez is perfectly suited to the pulpy nature of the material. He maintains an urgent and fast pace throughout that manages to gloss over these plot holes while the film is running. He also ups the ante in terms of action, and The Girl In The Spider’s Web resembles more of a standard but stylish Bond adventure with lots of chases, explosions, shootouts and fights. Alvarez’s direction is robust and there are a couple of well-staged action sequences, including a climactic showdown in a remote house in the woods. This is a perfectly fine action film for those unfamiliar with the source material. There is some suitably icy cold cinematography of Stockholm and the wintry landscapes from Pedro Luque (Don’t Breathe, etc) which enhances the bleak mood of the film.

Although Foy brings a strong physicality to her committed performance and manages to convey her emotional baggage, she is not the complex and emotionally vulnerable character from the novels. Here she comes across too much like an action superhero and invulnerable vigilante. And she lacks that certain brooding quality that Rapace brought to the screen. Mikael Blomqvist, the crusading journalist at the heart of Larsson’s trilogy has a lesser role to play here. He is played by Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason (recently seen as Bjorn Borg in Borg Vs Enroe, etc). Lakeith Stanfield (from Get Out, etc) has a strong presence as NSA agent Needham, who is sent in to clear up the mess created by Balder and finds himself allied with Salander and a fellow hacker against the might of the Spider Society. Claes Bang, from The Square, has a role here as one of the villains. But many of the characters are rather one-dimensional and some are not very well developed.

★★★

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