In 2011, David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was set to be Hollywood’s next big movie franchise. Despite the film’s talented cast, the novel’s hungry fanbase, and Sony Pictures’ big push, the series fizzled out after just one film. Seven years later, the series is back with The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Now the studio has tapped Fede Alvarez, a director known for making horror movies, to reinvigorate the series with his distinctive touch.
Alvarez’ take on the film’s protagonist, Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) feels ripped from one of the Warner Bros. comic book movies. We meet our dark heroine as she confronts a rich wife-beater who the courts can’t touch. She appears with the dramatic flair of Batman, brooding in the shadows looking cool AF; a Green Arrow-style hood covering her head and white war paint smeared across her eyes. Lisbeth spends her time hunting down evil men like him and making them pay for their crimes, usually with shame and violence. She inflicts both upon the woman-beating fool, depleting his bank accounts and tasering him where the sun don’t shine.
Lisbeth’s vigilantism develops quite a rep, and she’s contacted by Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), a programming genius who designed a killer application codenamed Firefall for the NSA. Firefall taps into missile defence systems around the globe and hands over control to the user. Frans has second thoughts about his program’s real-world consequences and wants Lisbeth to get it back from the NSA. She steals it from the Americans without breaking a sweat, but a group of thugs attack her and steal Firefall before she delivers it to Frans.
Frans work has drawn the attention of a shadowy organization with sinister motives called The Spiders. Making matters worse, they may have ties to Lisbeth’s past. Hellbent on retrieving Firefall, Lisbeth recruits her old “friend,” the journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason). Together, they put their particular skill sets to use tracking down The Spiders before they unleash Firefall.
At this point, Foy delivering a strong performance isn’t news; it’s expected. She earned much-deserved praise for her performance in The Crown, thrilled viewers in the low-fi genre joyride, Unsane, and elevated a thankless “nagging-wife-type” role into something memorable and earnest in First Man. Here, though, she adds a new wrinkle to her considerable skill-set: the ice-cold badass. Foy does more than kick ass in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, she carves out a lane for herself as a viable action movie star. Look out Charlize!
Despite her tiny frame, Lisbeth is not someone bad guys should f#<k with. Once she target someone, their goose isn’t cooked, it’s irradiated. This crafty character is at her best setting elaborate traps, using her intellect and hacking skills to think ten steps ahead of her prey. But Lisbeth also handles herself in face-to-face confrontations. The lady is at home on a motorcycle or behind the wheel of a car, drifting, and spinning out like the star of a Fast and the Furious movie. She also goes toe-to-toe with men twice her size in brawls. She lacks her opponent’s brute force, but she finds crafty ways to choke, stab, or shock them into submission. Forget about casting Foy as Batgirl or Batwoman, go ahead and make her the new Batman. Period.
Lisbeth has the makings of a complex character who bristles with inner-conflict. She comes from a family prone to the psychopath gene; her father and sister had it. And with Lisbeth’s penchant for extreme violence and social awkwardness, she might fall into that camp. Her vigilantism is as much about proving she’s not like the cold-blooded killers she shares DNA with. You see some of this conflict in Foy’s big expressive eyes, even though it’s not baked into the script. The complex inner workings of this intriguing anti-hero remain subtext. It’s fun watching Foy’s lean mean vengeance Terminator striking folks off her naughty list, which is good since the film doesn’t delve much deeper into Lisbeth or any other characters.
Alvarez isn’t the strongest storyteller, but he’s a master at crafting dark moods and unsettling atmospheres. The Girl in the Spider’s Web sticks to this trend. The film’s style and sense of place are more compelling than the plot, characters, or themes. Together with his cinematographer, Pedro Luque, Alvarez packs his film with striking visuals. One chilling shot sees a dying man strike his blood smeared palm against a glass door. And in another, Lisbeth clings to the bottom of a bathtub as fire rages inches above her head. The visceral imagery punctuate the movie’s most intense beats, giving each action sequence a satisfying sense of closure.
The film’s take on Sweden comes across like an anti-tourism guide; an uninviting series of snow-drifts, ice-covered lakes, and cold grey skies. Lisbeth’s world looks sapped of warmth, love, and kindness, and she behaves like a creature evolved for the near-inhospitable environment. It’s easy to root for her, but not to like her, or even find her compelling. And as a result, the film takes on Lisbeth’s personality; cold detached and clinical.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is at its best when Lisabeth is out in the world causing chaos like the dark web’s Jason Bourne. Foy fully inhabits the role of a kick-ass female antihero in a film that checks a lot of boxes but still feels lacking. With its intense action sequences, stunning visuals, and moody atmosphere, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a serviceable crime/thriller. It has all the goods to lure you towards its sticky web but lacks the appeal to ensnare you.