REVIEW: The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Stephen Merchant: “Ms. Salander, I have an impossible mission for you.” / Claire Foy: “Yes?” / Stephen Merchant: “Get Karl Pilkington to bring back Monkey News!”

Computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, is caught in a web of espionage when she is hired for a mission that forces her into face-to-face confrontation with a devilish past relation.

So let us set the stage. I have never completely given the original Swedish Millennium film series much of a chance; nothing against the Noomi Rapace led trilogy, but never have I been instinctively drawn to them much. I respect the films and understand they have a massive fanbase but… I love David Fincher’s The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo way more. Yes the film is not one of Fincher’s best, but you would be hard pressed to find a Fincher film that I do not love (and, for the record, I have never seen Alien 3, so that one doesn’t count) and consider a flawless technical achievement. It continues to pain me that Fincher never got to carry out the rest of his own vision for the Millennium trilogy; Rooney Mara was great, Daniel Craig (minus the accent) was great – the film just had such a finesse style and unnerving terror that rippled beneath its surface, to the point that, man, it would get so uncomfortable to watch at most stages, but never was turning away from the big screen a feasible option. My advice to you would be (If you have an iron stomach) go out, buy or rent the 2011 version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and just bathe in the experience of the film entirely… anything else than watch The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

Basically, what The Girl in the Spider’s Web is, is one big misunderstanding. The Girl in the Spider’s Web may be made by talent like Claire Foy of The Crown and First Man and Fede Álvarez of Don’t Breathe and the Evil Dead remake, however it manages to completely misinterpret what these films are meant to be. Now I have never read the books, but gathering from the original Swedish films and Fincher’s reboot, the Millennium stories are meant to be dark, gritty, ooie gooie, slimy mystery thriller crime tales that never shy away from moments of pure torture, depicting murder and rape in their truest, most depraved states. The original films depicted this tone, as divisive and as squeamish as it was, almost perfectly with the 2011 film even rivaling Fincher’s classic horror crime flick Se7en in its uncomfortable overtones. Those films knew what made the character of Lisbeth Salander special, above just the fact she could hack anything, and it was those films for which truly delivered on what Stieg Larsson’s essential essence and vision of the books originally were. Meanwhile, The Girl in the Spider’s Web could have been any generic thriller film, even going so far to lack the quintessential ‘thrilling’ element of it.

My problem with The Girl in the Spider’s Web was not exactly that it was a ‘soft-reboot’ or subtle sequel to whatever Fincher’s original film was; my problem is that the film just failed to be special and instead squashed any chance of uniqueness in favour of a subpar action film. The movie was like a mediocre James Bond flick with its lazy missile codes MacGuffin, a villain who’s directly, and conveniently, tied to the hero’s past and moments of pure lunacy like the character of Salander riding a motorbike across a frozen lake to evade police. Everything just shouted the Pierce Brosnan era of Bond but interlaced itself with the overly serious tones of the Daniel Craig era Bond throughout. Salander was reworked to be like a superhero, or more appropriately, a dark vigilante in the vein of Batman, who’s superpowers came in the form of hacking into anything and everything that would stand in her way. I would almost go so far to call her a Mary Sue, but more appropriately she just came off as more a… I don’t know exactly, but whoever the girl in the spider’s web is, is not the same girl who has a dragon tattoo or plays with fire or kicks hornet nests on a day-to-day basis – you know, as you do.

I honestly liked the fact that the film dared to be a bit different than the other entries in the franchise and tried for a new style… but the action route just did not work. It’s obvious that The Girl in the Spider’s Web was made to spark a new series of films based around the books due to Fincher’s last film having not earned enough at the box office for sequels to be produced. Yet, if a proper rebooted series was to ever come from the Millennium books, I do not want it to be in the continuity of this movie. As I said, the plot lacks any originality, because maybe the book the movie was based on was not actually written by the original author. Steig Larsson, in fact, only wrote the first three books in the series before his untimely demise, leaving David Lagercrantz to continue the novels. Maybe Lagercrantz just could not write as compelling a story as Larsson and so therefore this movie suffered narrative-wise because of it, although I maintain that any solid filmmaker could transform any trash source material into an incredible film (not to say The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a trash book – I could never know, because I have never read it).

girl-in-the-spiders-web3 (2)
(Reiner Bajo 2018 CTMG, Inc.)

Claire Foy was pretty good as Salander. She nailed the character, despite the weak scenarios and narrative threads she was thrown into. Actually, on second thought, Foy was great. The thing that initially made me stutter on that remark would have to be the fact that, despite her brilliance, Foy’s incarnation of Salander just never came close holding a candle to Rooney Mara or Noomi Repace’s renditions of the role. Both previous actors were so incredibly dedicated, having done their own stunts and committing to real piercings in order to really sell their characters with Mara even going so far to earn an Academy Awards nomination for her efforts. Foy’s performance may not be on their level, but it definitely worked for the film she was in.

I don’t have a lot to say on the supporting cast. Lakeith Stanfield was charming and entertaining as he always is whilst Sylvia Hoeks, never quite living up to her turn in Blade Runner 2049, still showed some potential talent. I personally love Stephen Merchant, so it was great seeing him appear, if not ever-so briefly. On total, I really do not have much of a problem with how the cast performed or how this film looked overall or even how The Girl in the Spider’s Web was directed. It’s just that the movie was ultimately so devastatingly underwhelming.

Honestly, I get it: it would be difficult to make ‘hacking’ a pinpoint of entertainment in a film. No matter how you do it, watching someone who’s good with computers log into a government base just never proves to be exciting. So you know what Fincher did; he chose not to make the hacking elements the focus. He told a subtle character piece with moments of tension baked into the protagonist’s relationships with one another and their tendencies to suffer pitfalls in uncovering the case. The Girl in the Spider’s Web tried to do the same thing, but instead attempted this distraction through action… and when your action sequences are just as fun as the hacking sequences, well, I think you have problems on your hands.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web may show fleeting promise through talented individuals like Foy and Álvarez, but the biggest crime the movie commits in the long run would just have to be its extreme tendencies to be (and there’s no better way to put this) boring. The Girl in the Spider’s Web was a boring, underwhelming watch and even though I cannot fully blame the film on technicalities, I can definitely fault the story and its overall lack of committing to its original crime induced identity.

The movie wants you to feel the terror of being caught in a spider’s web, but consequently has you just feel like you’ve woken up with figurative cobwebs, just reminding you how tired you truly are.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web sadly belongs in the… KINGDOM OF THE CRIMINALLY DULL…

 

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