The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a curious little beast of a film. On the one hand director Fede Alvarez and new Lisbeth, Claire Foy both have an understanding of who the Swedish punk hacker is at her core; a misfit and damaged vigilante who acts as the righteous hand of justice against the men who seek to harm women. On the other hand, Alvarez and co-writers Jay Basu and Steven Knight have decided to pit our anti-heroine in a world that was more designed for a Bond or Bourne and less for our Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The result is a rather mixed bag, a film unsure as to whether to treat her as an all out action hero or as the grimey, shattered yet ultra capable super sleuth she’s been portrayed as in past outings.
Salander, at least from the perspective of the Dragon Tattoo storyline is a down in the dirt character. Part of her reason for being is to destroy the lives of men who destroy the lives of women. So it’s a rather odd thing that, apart from a more fitting opening sequence, that Alvarez and co. opt to put the hacker in a more world saving situation, making this Salander almost a stranger in her own mythos. The Girl in the Spider’s Web follows Lisbeth as she’s hired by a tech genius (a rather somber Stephen Merchant) to retrieve a piece of software he developed for the US government. The software, Firefall, allows a single user complete and total access to the US nuclear arsenal. Scary stuff. In the midst of all of this, she’s being hunted by unknown assailants for the same software. I’d advise that, if you haven’t already, do not watch the trailers as they give away a fair chunk of the surprises, as Sony tends to do in their marketing material.
While not in the right narrative framework, Foy’s iteration of Salander is very much worthy of her predecessors and sheds a little more humanity to the character. Where Rapace’s Salander provoked and Mara’s Salander terrified, Foy’s go around just wants to be. She’s not looking to stand out from the crowd, but nor is she wanting to live by someone else’s standards either. She’s completely at ease with who she is and doesn’t necessarily need to be too in your face to leave an impression. Her co-stars, on the other hand, fare far less better. Sverrir Gudnason’s Blomkvist is definitely a sizeable downgrade from the charismatic oafishness that Daniel Craig brought to the character. Here there’s very little meat for Gudnason to chew, relegated to the good looking dude who seems to be of some use. Lakeith Stanfield doesn’t get to do much either, portraying a paper thin NSA agent who is attempting to track down Salander after she swipes Firefall from his server.
Criticisms aside, Alvarez is very much a talent to keep an eye on. Visually, his work with cinematographer, Pedro Luque is gorgeous, with each frame almost worthy of admiration. He also has a rather keen knack for perverse action, sequences that get under your skin in ways other action directors don’t. But it also feels like he’s using this movie as a way to audition for other work, mainly Bond, should Fukunaga decide to bail on the project down the line. There’s no question the man has chops (I suspect he’s also a game player with some playful nods towards the PS4 game Watch_dogs), but somewhere along the line of development he’s completely misjudged the sandbox with which Salander should play in and made it far grander than it needs to be. The character and overall theme of the Millenium series is ultimately centered on the horrors men commit against women, with Salander being the leather clad avenger. It requires someone who is unflinching in their vision of this world and, unfortunately, Alavarez blinked and went with something a little safer in the process, missing an opportunity to present a worthy successor to Fincher’s own entry into the mythology.