“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” Movie Review


     With director Fede Alvarez’s “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”, there have now been five films produced which are based on the characters created by author Stieg Larsson for his Millennium book series.  The first three films were made in Sweden and followed the original book trilogy in both name and storyline, while featuring Noomi Rapace in her break out role as Lisbeth Salander.  The Swedish trilogy was followed up in the United States with David Fincher’s 2011 adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, a film I thought so highly of that I named it my top film for that year.  Salander was played by Rooney Mara, who went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress after delivering a fiery performance as the relentless goth computer hacker with an ax to grind against men who hurt women.  After seeing Fincher’s film receive both critical praise and worldwide box office success, the initial thought was a sequel adaptation of both “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” would soon be on the way.  But Hollywood being Hollywood apparently meant the film’s two stars, Mara and Daniel Craig, had priced themselves out along with Fincher, leaving the project in development hell.

     Which brings us to the present.  Larsson passed away in 2004, several years before the original Swedish film trilogy was completed, which at the time meant the story had already seen its conclusion.  But later, the family hired author David Lagercrantz to write additional stories involving the Lisbeth Salander character, with the resulting book now the basis for the new film, which stars Claire Foy as the now third actress to sport the nose ring and infamous tattoo.  The result is a mixed bag for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the change in actors in the lead roles again forces the audience to reimagine these characters for a third time, and the immense ground gained by Mara and Craig is seemingly laid to waste with the realization the new duo simply can’t measure up.

     Alvarez, whose last project happens to be 2016’s nifty and clever horror film “Don’t Breathe”, collaborates on the screenplay with Jay Basu to systematically transform Salander into a sort of “Jason Bourne” type character with the sleazy sort of twist you would think was provided via a Joe Eszterhas script treatment.  The result is an all out spy flick, complete with the obligatory car chases, fight sequences, and explosions with Salander right in the middle of it all with her lap top or phone capable of taking control of virtually anything she wants.  Or more accurately, whatever the plot requires in order to further her progression to catching the bad guy, or in this case a very bad girl.

     Those kinds of plot conveniences are important when you’re dealing with a story that is built on being preposterous in the first place.  The film opens with a scene in which Salander has hidden herself in the home of a well known and wealthy Swedish businessman who also happens to apparently get off on abusing both his wife, as well as the women he cheats on her with.  And since we know from previous installments that Salander is a sort of superhero for women who can’t either defend themselves or just walk away, we get to see her string up another scumbag and ensure he rightfully pays for his crimes.  But it’s at that point the Salander we thought we knew is gone almost entirely, and replaced with a character who finds herself in the middle of a case involving international espionage, nuclear codes, and rogue agents seeking to acquire a dangerous computer program.  This new direction is a sharp departure from the revenge minded loner of the previous films, which ultimately means the very attributes that set the character apart have vanished in favor of characteristics we see all too often in these types of action films.

     “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is by no means a bad film.  Alvarez directs with an adept feel for the genre, delivering a number of tense moments involving some very creative stunt work.  But the lead characters seem to have been robbed of what made them so appealing in the previous films.  It’s kind of like the downgrade of going from Christian Bale to Ben Affleck playing Bruce Wayne/Batman.  It’s not a knock on either Affleck or in this case Foy or Sverrir Gudnason, who is the third actor to play Blomkvist as well, but rather a testament to how good Mara and Craig were in that they brought undeniable energy to the characters and left the audience wanting to see them again.  Tough shoes for Foy and Gudnason to fill, leaving “Spider’s Web” a notch below what came before it.  And save for a crafty NSA agent named Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), the supporting cast never really hits its stride until all is revealed in the third act, leaving mainly Foy to keep things interesting.

     To the filmmaker’s credit; however, the film often hits the right notes by ensuring the stakes remain high throughout and concealing the enemy for as long as possible in order to create a high level of suspense each time Salander finds herself in harms way.  There are times when some of the physical stunts she pulls off may seem unbelievable given her size compared to the bad guys, but Salander also uses her smarts to consistently ensure she remains one move ahead of the competition, something that is regularly foreshadowed in scenes where she is playing another character in chess.  The hope would be this version of Lisbeth Salander is given the opportunity to continue on, so as to give the series some much needed stability in much the same way Repace did with the Swedish films.  Only then would this character driven action series have the potential to become something more than just average.   GRADE: C+