Film Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web (USA, 2018) lacks adherence but compensates with thrills, fun and a great performance by Claire Foy

Lisbeth Salander is back! In another reiteration! Over the years, we have had four films revolving around the characters created by acclaimed Swedish author Stieg Larsson, and each have been hits in their home territory, as well as receiving rave reviews from many critics. Many people have complimented the Scandinavian cinematic thriller tropes (i.e. winter settings, moments of contemplation, downbeat tone, social commentary), the stellar performances from its two leads (Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander; Michael Nyqvist and Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist) and the gripping crime procedural storytelling.

After the long development stage that involved discontinuing the stages that director David Fincher had started, Sony Pictures have created a soft reboot of the story by adapting The Girl in the Spider’s Web, the 2015 novel written by David Lagercrantz. With director Fede Alvarez (who specializes in horror films) and talented actors Claire Foy and Sverrir Gudnason as both Salander and Blomkvist respectively, will the new Millennium film live up to the prior entries as well as stand on its own eight legs?

Set after the events of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) is recruited by fired NSA computer scientist Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to steal FireWall, a computer program that can access codes for nuclear weapons worldwide. The download soon draws attention from Alona Casales (Lakeith Stanfield), an NSA agent who traces the activity to Stockholm. Further problems arise when Russian thugs (led by Claes Bang) take Lisbeth’s laptop and kidnap a math whiz who can make FireWall work. Now, Lisbeth must reunite with Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrin Gudnason), who is stuck between writing jobs since Salander’s absence, to race against time to save the boy and recover the codes to avert worldwide disaster.

It feels quite necessary to point out the elephant in the room and get it out of the way before this review can continue. Much like the book it is based on, the film version of The Girl in the Spider’s Web is very little like the prior films over the past decade, which is bound to upset those who are familiar with the stories. In interviews, director Fede Alvarez had said that his film takes more of a James Bond approach, as opposed to an Agatha Christie approach. And it is on those terms that The Girl in the Spider’s Web succeeds as a thriller, rather than as a crime procedural like the earlier films.

Alvarez compensates the lack of characterizations and psychological depth with thrills, tension and overall fun. He stages the action scenes with flair and swift pacing, often littering the action scenes with oddly amusing details that make them more memorable than they are on paper, such as corpses in cars or debilitating drugs and others little details. But, what is most important is that Alvarez rarely turns Lisbeth Salander into a prototypical action hero. Since the story takes place after the prior films, the character has since become somewhat of a legendary figure and her rage towards the patriarchy, a misogynistic society and injustice is under control.

Claire Foy clearly revels in roles with plenty of facets of rage and frustration and she does a fantastic job here. She may not have the understated menace of Noomi Rapace‘s portrayal, nor the laser-focused determination of Rooney Mara‘s, but she succeeds with her own interpretation; portraying Lisbeth as a woman who survives through sheer resilience, as well as woman who is in complete control of her own emotional baggage. She embraces the physicality of the part, whilst also out-acting her co-stars with her wonderfully expressive eyes.

The supporting cast does what they can with their variable amounts of screen-time, and thankfully, the majority do make the most out of it. Sylvia Hoeks shows the same magnetic presence here as she did in Blade Runner 2049, and she is still quite effective as the antagonist, Camilla Salander. Lakeith Stanfield adds a little idiosyncratic flair to the underwritten part of NSA agent Alona Casales, whilst established talents like Stephen Merchant, Vicky Kripes, Claes Bang, Andrea Pejic, Synnøve Macody Lund and Mikael Persbrandt all lend credibility to their parts. The lone weak link is Sverrir Gudnason, who makes very little impression as Mikael Blomkvist, although it isn’t entirely his fault since the character is given little to do except dispense plot exposition.

There are some moments of ridiculousness, like for example, how Lisbeth’s hacking skills are almost honed to a superhuman level or how characters manage to move at incredible speeds. And you do end up wishing for more character depth, as we only ever really care about the turmoil of the characters at face value. And these flaws really stick out when you compare them to Foy’s presence.

Overall, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is an entertaining action thriller. It may not be what the Millennium faithful would expect, nor is it an entry that would fit perfectly into the Scandinavian Noir genre, but the film does well for itself; succeeding due to stylistic flair, thrills and a committed performance by Claire Foy.

 

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is in cinemas from today