I’m a huge fan of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. The leads, punk rock cyber hacker Lisbeth Salander and down-on-his-luck journalist Mikael Blomkvist, were two multifaceted characters that brought out interesting traits in each other, and the books (and films) managed to say some very important and enlightening things about society and the way men and women interact with each other. So, why is The Girl in the Spider’s Web so infuriatingly mediocre?
Lisbeth (now played by The Crown’s Claire Foy) is reintroduced as the part-time hacker and vigilante who is on a continuous mission of punishing successful men who abuse the women in their lives. Good so far. She is tapped by a government employee to investigate the program Firefall, which involves nuclear codes, and the possibility of a global catastrophe. At the heart of the operation is Lisbeth’s estranged sister Camilla, with whom she has a complicated past. Oh yeah, Mikael Blomkvist is still around for some reason, now played by Sverrir Gudnason. He doesn’t have a lot to do, and the importance of the Mikael/Lisbeth relationship is diminished.
Fede Álvarez is a very promising filmmaker. His 2013 remake of Evil Dead remains one of the best horror remakes – or one of the few that’s worked. This is a follow up to his 2016 Don’t Breathe, which was a tense, taut thriller with a plot hole-ridden script. This film is based on the fourth novel in this series, the first written by David Lagercrantz, who took the series over after Larsson’s death. His books are decidedly lesser, largely for the same reasons this is a lesser movie. Spider’s Web is nicely filmed and performed, but there are several fundamental things wrong with it.
It’s all about Mission Firefall, and Lisbeth’s task at hand. The most interesting part about the books and the series so far, cinematically, is the way the characters of Lisbeth and Mikael relate to each other. These are two people that come from vastly different backgrounds and both have suffered a great deal. In Spider’s Web, how these two people know each other is mostly ignored. She’s a generic action movie badass, and he’s almost nothing. The original character of Lisbeth is that of a badass but in her own very specific way. This is a character who has struggled a great deal and survived horrors beyond belief, and she has always found a way to come out the other end stronger. And in the past, this character has felt remarkably empowering. Now, she just seems like she could be anyone.
And none of this is Claire Foy’s fault. She delivers a fine performance as Lisbeth. She doesn’t really disappear into the role of Rooney Mara and Noomi Rapace did, but she ultimately does feel like the same character, even though she’s not written as well. Gudnason, who replaced Daniel Craig, feels miscast. As I’ve said, Mikael is useless in this story, so it’s not like the actor had much to do anyway, but Blomkvist and Salander seem like this vastly unlikely duo. He’s older than her and from a very different sociopolitical background. Here, these characters look like they’re the same age. Phantom Thread standout Vicky Kreips plays Mikael’s married girlfriend from work, a role previously played by Robin Wright. She has nothing to do, and it’s frustrating as well.
The drama of Lisbeth’s standoff with her sister Camilla feels very half-realized. You get a backstory and why Camilla is mad at her, but instead of sending these two on a story of healing, the movie is satisfied with making her a cartoon villain. And there’s hardly any time for character development or nuance of any kind because this is a big, loud action movie with explosions and set pieces that feel like they’re out of a James Bond movie.
David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo also did a James Bond-ish opening titles sequence, set to an industrial rock cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. It feels like identical imagery is stolen for this one’s title sequence. Although, the score here is terrible and doesn’t fit the movie at all. The Fincher version was scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, of Nine Inch Nails. The music for Spider’s Web is composed by Roque Baños, who has worked with Alvarez on his other films. It’s a big, sweeping orchestral score instead of the gritty, eerie, atmospheric music composed by Reznor and Ross, and it feels very out of place.
Despite all of this, Alvarez shoots this bad movie nicely, and nobody is giving a truly horrible performance. Why Sony Pictures didn’t let Fincher finish out his trilogy of films, I will never understand, especially since the Lagercrantz books also fall into the generic actioner trap that this film does. Foy is fine, but she’s no Mara or Rapace. I definitely don’t see a future onscreen for this version of Lisbeth Salander.