The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Screenplay by Jay Basu, Fede Alvarez and Steven Knight
Based on “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” by David Lagercrantz
Characters by Stieg Larsson
Starring Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakieth Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps, Christopher Convery
As Fede Alvarez’s “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” opened, I was struck with a bleak tone. Realizing that it was intentional, I accepted the stark reality that espionage stories are not nearly as important as they once were. Part of that is rendered moot by the fact that most government level terrorist acts are done via the internet and not through traditional, physical means.
Featuring characters from the Swedish novel and film series, and the David Fincher film, comes the latest film to use Stieg Larsson’s characters. The novel on which Alvarez, Jay Basu and Steven Knight based their screenplay was written by David Lagercrantz, is a globetrotting espionage type thriller involving dramatic locations, stunning set pieces, over-the-top stunts, exotic cars and a lot of coercion.
Why, then, did I feel like this film was a letdown?
It wasn’t for the acting. Claire Foy makes for a strong Lisabeth Salander, a hacker who it turns out has a morality complex. In Larsson’s novels and their adapted films, Salander is a bystander in her own story as journalist Mikael Blomqvist (Sverrir Gudnason) puts the pieces of her puzzle together in a journalistic investigation. Here, Blomqvist is a secondary character.
That’s a critical distinction because her sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) is a very, very devious woman. She’s the head of an international cartel on the hunt for a government security program and its programmer, Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant). This in turn attracts the attention of the NSA, specifically Edwin Neeham (Lakieth Stanfield in his second role this year).
If the acting wasn’t the issue, what was it?
The biggest hurdle was that this was Lisabeth Salander’s story, or at least it was told from her point of view. Larsson’s stories, even David Fincher’s film worked better because the story is told from Blomqvist’s vantage point. This allows Lisabeth’s story to fit the Me Too movement; it’s relatable.
Before you squash my commentary, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that they took this approach. I just don’t think it works for this set of characters. The bleak, melancholy theme renders the dramatic tension bland.
Alvarez and his cinematographer Pedro Luque make up for the melancholic with the sensual and sexual. There’s lots of leather (why is it that hackers must always wear skin tight leather clothing?!), there are fast cars. There’s even a brilliantly executed motorcycle chase, which ends on a frozen lake, complete with an abandoned observatory, a la “Chain Reaction.”
Alvarez has the right instincts for a big, epic film such as “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” because he had a strong lead. I couldn’t help but think about Martin Campbell’s “GoldenEye,” the first Pierce Brosnan – era James Bond film, mainly because our heroine must face herself. The distinction is that Salander is really an anti-hero, and in that regard her character, here, isn’t strong enough to play that role because the stakes weren’t high enough.
“That’s the trouble with the world today; no one takes the time to do a really sinister interrogation any more. It’s a lost art.” In spite of its bleakness, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” does find the art of the interrogation quite splendidly. I just wish the film made better use of its time getting to that point.
1.5 out of 4 stars