Not the Girl We Know and Need
The opening scene of The Girl in the Spider’s Web, the new film by director Fede Alvarez, hints at something really special. The darkened scene features actress Claire Foy’s character in full-on black leathers, with lighted cigarette dangling from her rigid lips, and shorn locks visible beneath an executioner's hood. The wings of a granite statue outline her in angel-shaped shadows.As the camera pulls back and the lights turn on, we notice it is avenger of the downtrodden, Lisbeth Salander (Foy) in the home of a very rich man who has recently beaten his wife bloody. Lisbeth slams the cigarette lighter’s lid shut on her hip before pushing over the angel statue which suddenly lashes the man upside down from the ceiling by a rope around his ankles. Before violently applying a taser to the man’s groin, she quickly transfers 20% of his fortune to the two female prostitutes he beat up the day before, and the remainder to his abused wife’s bank account. What a great way to start this revisit to an old friend and one of the most intriguing film characters in quite some time.
Lisbeth Salander is the lead character from Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s Millennial Trilogy series of novels that spawned both Swedish and American versions of “The Dragon Tattoo” movie adaptations. Not sure if The Girl in the Spider’s Web is intended as a reboot of the wildly popular stories and movies, or simply a continuation of the franchise. Regardless, author David Lagercrantz has taken over the literary franchise from Larsson (who died in 2004) while Foy becomes the third person to play Salander (after Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara) and the first to take the piss out of the character. That is not Foy’s fault at all, however. More on that later.
You see, one thing we’ve come to know about the Lisbeth Salander character through the novels and films, is that she is a captivating mystery. Yet despite her elusive nature, she is the pulsing heart of these stories. Lisbeth is a computer-hacking, leather-wearing, motorcycle-riding, puzzle-solving punk prodigy whose badass countenance stands as a hornet’s nest warning for people to stay away. She is heavily armored, yet vulnerable; volatile, yet meek. And though sexually abused as a young girl, Lisbeth has never let herself become a victim, instead having healed over the wounds with fibrous scar tissue of steely resolve. As equally competent on her Ducati motorcycle as she is hacking into the world’s most complex computer systems, Lisbeth is that righteous rebel we need now more than ever. In other words, she is a total badass who forms the defiant backbone of these stories.
Yet The Girl in the Spider’s Web features a much watered-down-for-the-masses version of our avenging angel. Gone is her pervasive drive for revenge on men who do bad things to women -- including her father, replaced by a dour, listless, stone-faced character who exhibits very little in the way of personality and even less in relevance to the gravitas of the story. As a result, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a gutless, soulless empty shell. Lisbeth Salander is a very compelling character and someone the world needs right now. But sadly, as handled here, she’s just another slickly-packaged vigilante superhero dumbed down for the masses. This hero for the abused and vulnerable deserves so much better, especially during times such as these.
“The Dragon Tattoo” movies have never been scant on plot. And that is certainly the case with The Girl in the Spider’s Web. In fact, Alavarez, who co-writes with Jay Basu, has so over plotted this thing with a web of disparate strands and threads it is enough to make your head spin. And if that weren’t enough, he never manages to make any of it very interesting. It is all quite the bore, in fact.
The preposterous scenario involves a scientist named Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) who hires Lisbeth to steal from the Americans a computer program that controls some kind of nuclear doomsday device. He wrote the program while employed by the NSA, but now wants it back, as do a gang of Russians called “The Spiders” and a whole host of other nefarious characters played by Lakeith Stanfield, Synnove Macody Lund, and others. So, it is up to Lisbeth to help get the program back – which she does, but unfortunately, she also fails to cover her internet tracks and some really bad people are now on her trail. It sounds like a fairly simple story and one loaded with captivating mystery and intrigue, but trust me, it isn’t.
There’s also a thread that speaks to Lisbeth’s tortured backstory that involves her estranged, expressionless sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), who is looking to extract her own demented brand of revenge on Lisbeth, for whom she harbors a life-long grudge for having abandoned her to the incestuous abuse of their father when the two were both young children.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is an unnecessary revisit to a franchise that died years ago. For airplane novels and Netflix streaming, perhaps there is still some life left in this Nordic noir serial. But as for the big screen, Alvarez and company do nothing to revive the theatrical legacy. Not even the beautifully bleak Nordic landscape so perfectly captured by Pedro Luque’s camera can save this one. The biggest mistake Alvarez makes is not understanding the “Girl” in the film’s title. Too bad the momentum captured in that opening scene wasn't carried forward.
(Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and rated “R” for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.