"I could never figure it out, why did you help everyone but me?"
It is a great shame that the planned sequels to David Fincher’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ never came to fruition. I understand that Fincher’s meticulous filmmaking style may not mesh with studio mandated release schedules for a profitable franchise, but as someone who’s in the minority of thinking that Fincher’s 2011 remake is superior to the original Swedish version it is disappointing to think that we were denied a potentially great franchise. Anyway, here’s this other thing which isn’t a continuation but also isn’t a remake either. So yeah.
Fired from the National Security Agency, Frans Balder recruits hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) to steal FireWall, a computer program that can access codes for nuclear weapons worldwide. However when the codes and a young child are stolen by Russian thugs working for an unknown source, Lisbeth finds herself in a race against time to save the boy and recover the codes to avert disaster.
I’m finding it increasingly difficult not to compare ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ to Fincher’s 2011 film. Firstly because it’s simply unfair to enter any film expecting to be on the same level of David Fincher, secondly because this version is intended to be a clean slate and should therefore be treated as such with no back catalogue to live up to, and lastly because it’s really convenient and easy to do so. The two approaches to telling Lisbeth’s story are almost polar opposites in terms of method. Save for the sleek cinematography and soundtrack, everything that set Fincher’s film apart from generic contemporary thrillers seems to be absent from this latest effort.
I was at least hoping that Fede Alvarez could deliver some visual flair and heightened tension when it came to his direction, and in some regards he does achieve just that. In mostly comes in quitter scenes, ones that feel more inherently claustrophobic and are driven less by large scale spectacle and more by the volatile nature of the characters present. It’s here that the director of ‘Evil Dead’ and ‘Don’t Breathe’ reminds us what made those two movies function as well as they did. Certain scenes of conversation have a palpable air of suspense to them that momentarily makes me want to forgive the movie’s other shortcomings.
But on the other hand it only serves to highlight how disappointingly weak they are. As I tried to let myself be absorbed by these more intriguing moments, I was reminded of how little characterisation had been given to some of the movie’s most significant players. It treats the characters less like a complex psychological thriller and more like a middle of the road Bond movie. Characters don’t drive the plot as much as they are merely vehicles for it, something that can guide the audience to another overblown action set piece.
Not only are those set pieces in question weightless for the amount of tension they hold, but they clash fiercely with the few inspired moments the film has. Taut psychological suspense leads into inflated car chases and stunts that, while impressive on a technical level, do little to immerse me within the grounded stakes that the film wants to establish. I suspect many fans will be disappointed by the Bourne-esque approach to ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ and how counterintuitive it is to what this series began as. But beyond that the action scenes seem at odds with what that very same film wanted to present itself as just moments earlier.
If Alvarez had a tough predecessor to live up to in the form of Fincher, then Claire Foy has even more of a pedigree to uphold in her performance. Noomi Rapace’s singularly driven performance was so intense that it single handily elevated the entire film it was within, meanwhile Rooney Mara was equally phenomenal in the 2011 remake. It is immediately clear that Foy does not have the script to give her a characterisation worthy of those two performances, but with what she’s given Foy definitely turns in an accomplished performance. She sells the determination of Lisbeth with commendable conviction, and just as the film occasionally shows signs of intrigue so does her role when she is allowed to embrace the more vulnerable parts of the characters psyche.
However on the whole the presentation of Lisbeth is perhaps the greatest failing of ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’. In previous iterations that character has contained multitudes and conflicts by wanting to be strong in the face of adversity whilst never being reduced to her past traumas, all in the name of battling against the misogynistic society which shaped her. Here though she is little more than a commodity, a blank slate crafted to appeal to as wide a demographic as possible. Again it comes down to the simple fact that Lisbeth doesn’t act as a driving force to the plot, instead she is merely in service to it. For a character as iconic and as revered as her, that might be the most frustrating aspect of all about this film.
A generic thriller that reduces an iconic character to just another moving part in an otherwise forgettable movie that does anything but defy conventions.