MOVIE REVIEW: 'Girl in the Spider's Web' tangles its unique heroine in standard plot

Claire Foy stars as Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl in The Spider's Web." | Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

This movie review almost didn't get written. And that has nothing to do with the fact that terrible Atlanta traffic and a couple of wrong turns made me late for the screening.

See, back in 2011, there was a little movie called "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" that, despite being a great success ($90 million budget, more than $230 million box office) and the first installment of the late Stieg Larsson's book trilogy, never got a sequel. That was a shame, because I rather liked the stories about Lisbeth Salander (now played by Claire Foy, "The Crown"), the dragon-tattooed Swedish computer hacking vigilante who avenges abused women.

Today's film is based on a newer novel (not written by Larsson, who died in 2004 before any of the three books in the series were released), and the difference in quality is plain.

After a bit of flashback and a look at Lisbeth's life in the Stockholm, Sweden, underground, she runs afoul of the wrong criminals when she steals computer code allowing access to nuclear weapons. These bad guys challenge even her considerable abilities to stay invisible and off the grid by secretly manipulating the grid. That hasn't stopped her from being tracked by an NSA agent (Lakeith Stanfield) hungry to recover the code and silence Lisbeth forever. She's also got a genius kid to look after, a boy (Christopher Convery) who's the only one able to unlock said nuclear codes. The worst part of it for Lisbeth is that the whole mess might involve long-lost family (played by Sylvia Hoeks) that she did not want found.

"The Girl in the Spider's Web" is standard thriller fare. Lisbeth is like a Jason Bourne figure for the goth set, though with an emphasis on using wits rather than fisticuffs and gunplay to thwart her enemies. It's refreshing to see a woman in this sort of lead role. I'm also glad to see the return of Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), a crusading journalist whose career and romantic life was once revived by his encounters with Lisbeth.

What's missing from this new treatment is the avenger aspect that was the character's neatest quality. It was very cathartic to see this petite woman turn the tables on bigger, more powerful men with her intelligence and her patience to play the long game against her foes. But here Lisbeth seems forced into the usual physical battles, car chases and racing-against-the-clock-for-the-fate-of-the-world stakes seen in other action thrillers. It's competently and believably done -- there's no instance of her simply overpowering much bigger dudes against all reason, for example. Still, it robs the character of some of her uniqueness.

So much would be entirely forgettable about this film, but the villains, Stanfield and Hoeks, bring a bit of character complexity to the proceedings. I'm not sure Hoeks' character always needed to be dressed neck-to-toe in red all the time, but the character herself and her motivations make for a good mystery. And Stanfield's NSA agent is a solid, dangerous foil for Lisbeth.

In spite of my criticisms, the real treat and point of this film is this: getting to see Lisbeth Salander again. Foy does well in the role (following Rooney Mara in the 2011 version and Noomi Rapace in an earlier Swedish-language adaptation), and the overall product isn't bad. One hopes to see the dark heroine in better fare if the franchise continues.

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