Claire Foy’s vulnerably fierce performance and the film’s fast-paced action in a visually striking setting make for a worthwhile vehicle for the iconic Salander character, even if it doesn’t hold a candle to Fincher’s 2011 masterpiece.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is (confusingly) the film adaptation of the fourth Millennium series novel as well a sequel to the 2011 U.S. version of the premiere novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When the news first hit that Sony had decided to skip two of the books in the series and essentially wipe the board clean with a new director and a new cast, it was alarming for fans to say the least.
In many ways, Fede Álvarez’s latest take on the series confirms many of fans’ fears, as it is guilty of being a more diluted and accessible version of Fincher’s 2011 critically acclaimed achievement. However, in a surprising turn, the film manages to be an enjoyable action-packed ride for fans of the iconic tattooed computer hacker, largely thanks to Claire Foy turning in another reliably excellent performance.
The story kicks right into gear by reacquainting us with introverted, hacker vigilante Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy), continuing to doll out her personal justice against powerful men who victimize women. One day, Salander is tasked by computer scientist Fran Balder (Stephen Merchant) to assist in retrieving and destroying a computer program he regrettably created that has the power to remotely control weapons of mass destruction. Lisbeth, being the prodigious hacker she is, singlehandedly retrieves the “Firefall Project” from NSA agent Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), but finds herself quickly a target of a Russian crime ring, known only as “The Spiders.”
After being robbed of the “Firefall Project” by this crime syndicate, Salander seeks out the aid of her longtime journalist companion Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason). Together, the two must race to find Balder before “The Spiders” do in order to prevent the crime organization from accessing the powerful computer program. Little does Lisbeth realize that “The Spiders” are masterminded by her long-lost sister, Camilla Salander (played unnervingly well by Blade Runner 2049 standout Sylvia Hoeks). The film details Lisbeth’s struggle to confront her traumatic past in order to stop the perilous group from obtaining the program and controlling the world’s deadliest weapons.
Right off the bat, it is apparent that this film is a different beast from Fincher’s iteration of the Millennium series. Fede Álvarez has done away with the slow-burn mystery approach for a high-octane, dare I say traditional action approach, you would find in most spy thrillers. In the first act alone, the audience is already presented with shootouts, explosions, and a high-speed motorcycle chase. While this approach to the series is unquestionably more in line with typical action spectacle, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is instantly gripping thanks to this fast-pacing, which will thrill fans of recent action thrillers like the Mission: Impossible series, but it might take some time for fans of Fincher’s film to warm up to.
Holding this fast-paced approach together is Claire Foy’s fine work as the successor of the sleuthing hacker character. While Foy’s incarnation of the character compared to Rooney Mara’s take is far smoother and almost superhuman with her level of hacking prowess, these slight calibrations don’t misrepresent the core of what the character is about. Foy, who is having quite a year between her starring role in Unsane and phenomenal supporting work in last month’s First Man, injects the right amount of vulnerability and frantic struggle, which is no easy act considering the character isn’t exactly one for small talk. This prevents Salander from sputtering out into a goth, invincible superheroine and instead provides an equal measures fierce and fragile vigilante with a strong moral compass.
Unfortunately, the Mikael Blomkvist character gets the short end of the narrative stick so to speak this time around. The 2011 film largely thrived as it understood that the film was equally about the connection between the idealistic journalist and the unconventional prodigy he encounters. In this instalment, Blomkvist is deprived of a meaningful role and is solely a supporting character rather than a co-headliner.
His arc regarding whether his journalistic career has become solely dependent on the stories he is able to write with Salander’s aid is half-baked at best and doesn’t come through as compelling despite being a promising angle to explore. While this marginalization of Lisbeth’s loyal partner is disappointing, it is somewhat understandable given that the focus of the story is on Lisbeth’s past and how it has shaped her. Additionally, by shrinking Mikael’s involvement, the film was able to more easily sustain its breakneck pacing.
Overall, The Girl in the Spider’s Web doesn’t hold a candle to Fincher’s 2011 masterpiece, but that is perfectly acceptable as it’s a solid outing for the iconic character thanks to Foy’s reliably thrilling performance. Although I will always be disappointed that Fincher’s interpretation never received the proper sequels they deserved with the same perfectly matched cast, I can still get behind this iteration of the franchise and gladly hope the film will do well enough to see the next book adapted for the big screen sometime soon.