The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

“I realized too late that I committed an abomination.”

From the opening title sequence that oozes with James Bond’s spy sensibilities, it’s quite clear The Girl in the Spider’s Web wants to rebrand this literary character as an all-out action heroine. These aspects of the film are successful, if a bit superficial to say that least, resulting in a final product that’s thoughtlessly entertaining and frustratingly devoid of sustained drama. At this rate, it’s safe to say this will be the last time we see an attempt to adapt the successful worldwide series of novels into film form. Some things just play out better on paper.

Known as Stockholm’s vigilante hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) hunts down men who hurt women, sucking the life and the power out of them with one fell swoop. I would’ve almost preferred to watch her do just this for 90 minutes; in the era of the #MeToo movement, it’s powerful to see a woman who defies the constraints of commercialized beauty norms bring sexual assaulters to their knees. The film has more muddling about to do though, introducing former NSA employee Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) into the foray. Having built an omnipotent program called Firefall with the power to access every nuclear code, Balder solicits Salander’s help to destroy his creation that’s capable of mass destruction. And remember Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) from the books? Well, he’s hardly important this time around.

Of course there are bad guys who want the program for themselves, and of course their leader has a blood relation to Lisbeth. In fact, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) is her twin sister who was thought to be deceased. Camilla is the film’s antagonist, and unless you count an early childhood flashback, she somehow doesn’t completely factor into the story until the third act. A lot of action movies share this same problem. It’s more rewarding to develop characters little by little and piece by piece – although there are exceptions – than it is to drop them into the thick of things like an anvil. While I don’t mind that The Girl in the Spider’s Web so desperately wants to be a spy flick, I do wish it had aspired to be better than average. A few layers of earned mystery would’ve been a serviceable cherry on top.

The 2009 Swedish original was laborious and visually disturbing, bordering on the grotesque. David Fincher’s refined 2011 remake emphasized callous coldness with a frostbitten palette. And by comparison, director Fede Alvarez’s version absent-mindedly delivers a sleek look with little context or history to root itself in reality. Like most other mediocre stories of its kind, The Girl in the Spider’s Web grants Lisbeth access to security systems and locked doors and bank accounts at the press of a button, setting up a film which acts on the ideology that international hacking is as easy as sending a text whilst driving (or in Lisbeth’s case, hacking while driving). Claire Foy gives a dedicated performance, but because this is the most shallow depiction of Salander yet, she has no emotional canvas to paint on, and the movie cuts its most promising long takes with hurried, trigger-happy editing. The Girl in the Spider’s Web can be compared to an all-in-one device: it’s decent at a lot of things, great at nothing, and highly prone to breaking.

“I’m glad they’re both dead.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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