Fans of David Fincher’s 2011 adaptation of the Swedish novel (which had already been adapted) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo may have a hard time recapturing that love with Fede Alvarez’s take on Lisbeth Salander’s story, The Girl in the Spider’s Web. That’s because this sequel feels more like a reboot than it does a sequel. This story, written by Alvarez along with Jay Basau and Steven Knight, is adapted from a David Lagercrantz novel of the same name. It takes place three years after the events of Dragon Tattoo, where Salander (played wonderfully this time by Claire Foy) has become a vigilante for women’s justice. Moving around in the shadows and using her insane cyber skills to right the wrongs of men, this is a natural progression from the Salander in Dragon Tattoo (played that time by Rooney Mara). Other than that connection and the name being the same, there doesn’t seem to be much in common with the characters at all. The same could be said for the rest of the characters and the film as a whole. The tone and feel of the films don’t really seem to resemble each other, Fincher’s felt more like a crime/mystery akin to the likes of Zodiac and this story is more of an espionage action/thriller similar to the Bourne films. While this complete change of pace may have been off putting to fans of Dragon Tattoo, I found The Girl in the Spider’s Web to be a thrilling film and fun watch.
Alvarez makes his mark on the Salander character early on in this film. It opens to the aftermath of a domestic violence situation that is quickly turned on its head, literally. As the businessman is hanging by his feet and Salander stalks around him calling out his injustices, we see a different character than the one we were left with in Dragon Tattoo. This one is a badass, with a depleted bank account and a tase to the genitals as evidence. While this scene in particular isn’t full of action it does establish Salander as a character and establish that she is a lot different from the last time we saw her. It wasn’t too much longer after this that we really get to see what Alvarez has in store for The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which is some good action. This is where the film worked the most for me and that is mainly because Claire Foy worked for me. Whether it was car chases or bathroom fight scenes, Foy worked as a badass action star, and her prickly disposition made the whole thing work even more.
The film really hinges on her performance and her performance was good. Much like Mara’s take on the character, Foy had a much more reserved disposition. She is an introverted cyber-hacker turned cold-blooded vigilante, this isn’t really the platform for a big personality. The beauty in her performance lies in making this character compelling. Foy is able to bring a level of compassion and sympathy to the character, all the while kicking ass, which makes her more interesting. You can see the weight of her childhood and lack of true companionship on her almost all the time. Her loneliness isn’t a choice, it’s to cope the lost of her sister and the hurt from her father. That comes across in her performance and brought the character to life for me.
While the action and Claire Foy were great, the best part of The Girl in the Spider’s Web was Pedro Luque’s cinematography. There were countless breathtaking shots throughout the film that made for a beautiful experience out of what is an otherwise dark film. There were particular stills, Foy in front of the bussinessman’s statue or her sitting in the circular window at the night club, that could easily be framed and hung on a wall. But the greatness of the cinematography was in how Luque shot several of his sequences. He provided great care and detail in what have become pretty standard sequences, which helped to bring this film alive and look so good. The best example is when Salander is trying to steal a nuclear program called “Firefall” from the NSA. We are with NSA employee Edwin Needham (a solid Lakeith Stanfield) as he finds out that he is being hacked. As he takes off to stop the attack we follow him back to his computer. Luque builds the tension all on his own with how he shoots this sequence. Following Needham as his walk turns into a frantic run and as he gets to his floor, the camera zooms out to show the whole office in its own apparent frantic state and Needham running through that. Then we zoom back into Needham, now at his desk realizing that the only option he has left is to shut down the whole system. This turns into another frantic run, this time with a shaky handheld that only adds to the tension of this scene. It ends with Salander successfully stealing “Firefall” (reestablishing her incredible hacking skills) and introducing us to, what appears to be, a foe. This kind of camera work isn’t always present in these types of movies but it is very much welcomed. Even though this stellar cinematography became less showy and simpler as the film went on, the beauty of the first half was enough to carry me through the whole film.
Even with so much for me to enjoy in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, it is far from a perfect film. The screenplay had some problems and as the film went on those problems became more apparent. There were a lot of plotlines throughout and in the final third of the film those plotlines needed to be tied up and that’s where the film is at its messiest. There was too much going on and it was hard to follow. This was also a problem because no characters other than Salander were developed all that well. Mikal (Sverrir Gudnasson) is supposed to be an ex-lover and confidant of Salander. They are supposed to have this complicated relationship, which was very much prevalent in Dragon Tattoo, but that doesn’t really come across. This kind renders Mikal as meaningless because all he does is provide help that any other character could have done. Similar could be said about Edwin Needham. There isn’t much we know about the character other than he works for the NSA and used to be a great hacker. He has this secondary plotline that initially seems compelling (mainly because anything Steinfeld does is compelling), but turns out to be nothing more than a convenience that is used to help tie up the third act. This failure to develop characters and shaky plot development are usually a turn off for me and clearly turned off most critics (as of this writing it sits at 44% on Rotten Tomatoes) but didn’t sway me much this time. The Girl in the Spider’s Web worked for me on an entertainment level. It felt more like an action movie than anything else and sometimes I don’t like to think with my action movies. Just show me some cool stuff and have an interesting main character and I’ll go for the ride. This film did that, and while it’s not among my favorite films of the year, it wasn’t a bad way to spend two hours.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Director: Fede Alvarez Writers: Jay Basu, Fede Alvarez, Steven Knight Starring: Claire Foy, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks & Sverrir Gudnason Release Date: November 9th Rated: R Runtime: 1 hour and 57 minutes