If you’re going into The Girl in the Spider’s Web expecting anything similar to David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, be prepared. Not to be disappointed, just for a very different experience. While the icy atmosphere and blood-curdling violence remain, there’s a forward momentum and turn towards Bond-esque action that director Fede Alvarez has brought to what looks to be a revitalized franchise. It’s a move that works in delivering a more exciting Dragon Tattoo movie, albeit one that loses something from an artistic point of view.
Your enjoyment of The Girl in the Spider’s Web will largely depend on your view of Claire Foy as vigilante computer hacktivist Lisbeth Salander. While she lacks Noomi Rapace’s physicality and pitilessness, Foy is certainly more comfortable in the role than Rooney Mara, who always seemed to be putting on a show for Fincher since he vouched for her over studio objections. Foy’s take on the character has power, with anger bubbling beneath the surface, but she’s asked to show a more vulnerable side to Lisbeth than we’re accustomed to seeing. She can still kick butt, and her hacking ability, along with a near-supernatural foresight, make her virtually unstoppable.
There isn’t a lot of meat on the bones of this story, counting on our fascination with Lisbeth to carry us through. Skipping over the last two books in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, the film is based on the fourth book penned after the author’s death. So it makes sense that it should feel a little bit different, and after a very theatrical opening credits sequence it becomes clear that James Bond is indeed the model they’re going for. This particular Dragon Tattoo story finds Lisbeth hired by fired computer genius Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to steal back a dangerous program, one with nuclear capability, from the American government. Stealing it is the easy part, although it puts her at odds with NSA agent Edwin Neeham (Lakeith Stanfield) who is in a desperate search to get it back. Lisbeth suddenly becomes the target of thugs who want the program for their mysterious leader (Blade Runner 2049‘s Sylvia Hoeks), a woman from Lisbeth’s tortured past.
Gone is the psycho-sexual tension between Lisbeth and Millennium journalist Mikael Blomkvist, played in this film by Borg/McEnroe‘s Sverrir Gudnason. He’s basically reduced to a supporting role here, and not much above tagging along while Lisbeth does most of the dirty work. So the film is instantly less sexy as a result, and in its place is a greater emphasis on stylish action sequences. Other than an opening scene (one teased mightily in the trailers) we don’t see much of Lisbeth as the girl “who hurts men who hurt women”. Her character has been thinned out, so to speak, just as this film is designed to be a lean, easily accessible chapter. If you hadn’t seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo you’d be perfectly fine not knowing anything that happened previously, and if you did see it none of that stuff really matters. What echoes through both films is the legacy of violence committed by men against women; we see past trauma’s reflected in Lisbeth’s eyes, and her enemy is riddled with similar wounds. Those aspects could use deeper exploration if only to give the disappointing final showdown greater emotional impact.
Alvarez made his bones with the ambitious Evil Dead remake and his tense thriller Don’t Breathe. This is his biggest film by far and he puts an undeniable stamp on this series and the Lisbeth Salander character. The Girl in the Spider’s Web may look, even feel like a James Bond movie, but it’s a welcome turn for an enduring and unique heroine of the page and screen.