Adapted from David Lagercrantz’s novel, using characters from Stieg Larsson’s acclaimed Millenium Trilogy, The Girl in the Spider’s Web stars Claire Foy as master hacker and vigilante Lisbeth Salander who is tasked with retrieving a top secret computer program that would grant the user control over all the world’s nuclear missiles, but when a highly dangerous mercenary group known as The Spiders take possession of it, Lisbeth must reteam with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) in order to get it back and to prevent global armageddon, while also having to protect an important child, evade an NSA agent (Lakeith Stanfield), and deal with dark family secrets.
Before I first saw the trailer for this film, I had never seen any of the cinematic adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s acclaimed novels, though I was certainly aware of them and of the two main characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. But then I saw the trailer for this new film and it impressed me, so I immediately decided that I would eventually see it in the cinema and later on, upon learning that it was to be co-written by Peaky Blinders and Locke‘s Steven Knight and directed by Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe‘s Fede Álvarez, I was even more eager to see it and watched 2009’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in preparation, which I really enjoyed due to its intriguingly bold story and memorable performance from Noomi Rapace.
So with a strong trailer, a writer and director with promising track records, and a leading actress who has had a particularly strong year so far, this film had all the ingredients for a mightily impressive cinematic endeavour, right?
Unfortunately not. Because The Girl in the Spider’s Web, though not a bad film by any means, is decidedly average, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and isn’t imaginative or bold enough to compete with previous “chapters” of this particular saga (of which I’ve only seen one, I admit).
What disappoints most here is the story; a far cry from the unique mystery, intrigue and danger of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this particular film ends up as your basic, Americanized spy/espionage thriller complete with the McGuffin computer program that the bad guys mustn’t have under any circumstances, a highly dangerous band of criminals, a few car/bike chases, a traitor or two, the threat of global annihilation, a climactic showdown set in the snow, and an action hero who finds herself on the run from the law and who must grapple with some long forgotten family secrets. To it’s credit, Spider’s Web is never boring and the dialogue is okay, but it always seems as though something exciting is just about to happen, which it rarely does, and ultimately the whole thing is fairly predictable and formulaic (with a plot that’s spelled out COMPLETELY in the trailer – just to warn you). The story is littered with a few plot contrivances and implausible moments and there’s too much “telling” and not enough “showing”, spoonfeeding the necessary information once too often.
While watching, I couldn’t help but feel that this film was akin to a slightly above average Bond film. Especially since the all important computer program is called “Firefall”. That should have been the title to this film! (Let the Firefaaaaaaall!)
Taking over the Lisbeth Salander role that Noomi Rapace confidently made her own (and that Rooney Mara was also really good in, I’m told) is Claire Foy; she was another big reason why I wanted to see this film, seeing as how she greatly impressed with her remarkable appearances in Unsane and First Man, but in all honesty, I was a little disappointed with her performance here. Far from the enigmatic and believably tough incarnation put across by Noomi Rapace, Foy’s Salander, though extremely clever, resilient and brave, spends most of her time looking sullen and/or confused (her two primary facial expressions) and she isn’t the confident, mysterious and tough protagonist with true grit that she should have been. It would seem that this Salander is meant to be far more vulnerable than previous portrayals, constantly battling with past events, but Foy doesn’t do enough to make her character interesting and she sadly ends up as a generic action hero protagonist.
There are also a couple of opportunities in the script that could’ve given Foy some comedic moments (during scenes involving the child) but these opportunities are wasted and it seems that, despite her prowess at drama, she’s not ready for comedy just yet. I mean, do her characters ever smile?
As Blomkvist, Sverrir Gudnason is regrettably quite vanilla as the script doesn’t do him any favours and in this story, he’s simply a sidekick who’s along for the ride – not essential at all in the grand scheme of things and alongside, rising star Lakeith Stanfield is solid as NSA tracker Edwin Needham, Stephen Merchant admirably fits right in as the plot essential Frans Balder – the terminated NSA employee who sets Lisbeth on her quest, Cameron Britton does well as ally hacker Plague, and Sylvia Hoeks is delightfully unhinged and menacing as the villain of the piece (more on her afterwards!)
Emerging horror maestro Fede Álvarez’ direction is alright since he keeps events moving at a steady pace but while most things in the film sure look the part – with effective cinematography that shows off some impressive locations as well as good production design – Álvarez often relies on shaky camerawork too often so in the frantic fight sequences, it can be difficult to ascertain just what is going on; at this point, it would seem as though he hasn’t quite made the transition into the mainstream just yet. And complementing the fine visuals, frequent Álvarez collaborator Roque Baños injects a suitably chilling score that helps evoke that spy/espionage feel that the film strives to bring us.
So while I may not exactly be an expert on this particular saga, having only seen the 2009 film (at time of writing), I found The Girl in the Spider’s Web to be a decidedly average film. The story is unimaginative and too familiar, though it’s told in a coherent manner and it never gets too confusing or tedious, and it isn’t as dark, bold or uncompromising as it should have been. It’s decent but it won’t set the world on fire.
Decently made, with an able cast and an effective score, but held back by a generic, predictable story and a slightly miscast lead.
★ ★ ★
And to conclude with a slightly embarrassing story: after initially watching all the trailers for this film, I was absolutely CONVINCED that Sylvia Hoeks’ character was in fact played by Jessica Chastain!
I was confused as to why her name didn’t appear in the opening credits (“Are they trying to keep her involvement a secret?” I said. “When we’ve all seen her in the trailers?!) and for the entire duration, I was so sure that it was her! “They’ve really tried to make her look different, haven’t they? They’ve even altered her nose”, I said!
Only to discover that it was Sylvia Hoeks the whole time! Boy, did I feel silly!
Was I a complete idiot or can you see it too?! 😆