I have always been a fan of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series and going into Fede Álvarez’s film adaptation of David Lagercrantz’s novel I had mixed emotions as The Girl in the Spider’s Web finds Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) in the role of savior and vigilante.
The film opens with a young Lisbeth playing chess with her sister Camilla before being summoned by their father. He is clearly a horrible man and Lisbeth does not obey him, whereas Camilla always does. Lisbeth can no longer handle being trapped in her father’s home and makes her escape, leaving Camilla behind. Fast forward to the present and Lisbeth is now, as the trailer remarks, “the girl who hurts men who hurt women”. Lisbeth is hired by Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to steal back a computer program he designed that is now in the hands of the NSA. Oh and of course the computer program controls the world’s nuclear codes. Lisbeth soon finds herself needing the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) yet again. This time, however, they are pulled into the world of “The Spiders”.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web plays out more like a James Bond action spy film than the dark, mysterious crime thriller American audiences were introduced to in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). Alvarez’s film has the same visual aspects with stark contrasts of white and black set against the cold harshness of Swedish winter. The film’s beautiful score also lends itself to the tense and cold atmosphere, but while the film is pretty to look at and the music is nice to listen to, it comes up wanting. Something is missing.
This film is somewhat hard to place. It is not a reboot, but it’s also not a typical sequel. The Girl in the Spider’s Web has a whole new cast and is completely different in mood and tone compared to David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When comparing the two, Claire Foy and Rooney Mara could easily be playing different characters. The intensity and desperation in Mara’s Lisbeth has now been muted in Foy’s. I am not saying one or the other makes a better Lisbeth, but it muddies the waters of what these adaptations are trying to do. Same could be said of the character of Mikael Blomkvist. This time he is played by Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason. There is nothing wrong with his performance, but are we really supposed to believe this is the same guy played by Daniel Craig seven years ago? The characterization is just not quite right.
It is easy in most film adaptations to say “Well, it’s hard to make a character in a novel match the character on the screen”. It is almost always not exact, and for fans of any novel that is adapted into a movie, this will always be a point of contention. But this film seems to be so watered down in presenting these complex characters it is relying on its audience to already fully understand them from outside sources. The film expects you to have some knowledge from David Fincher’s 2011 film to fill in the missing pieces of The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
Thankfully, there are new characters that do not require any previous familiarity. LaKeith Stanfield (Get Out) plays Edwin Needham, an NSA agent who travels to Sweden to track down Lisbeth. Stanfield has been on a bit of a roll the last couple years and once again it is easy to see why. There is also Sylvia Hoeks in the role of Camilla, who brings a creepiness to the film that helps give it that edge that is missing.
In full disclosure I am a long-time fan of Stieg Larsson’s novels, as well as the Swedish film adaptations from 2009. Lisbeth Salander is one of the most interesting fictional characters of all time. She is an anti-heroine at the heart of this series and I want to see more films exploring her character. With this film I feel like we almost retreated. We didn’t delve in deeper, we just got pulled farther out. Alvarez’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a satisfying spy action thriller with good performances from Claire Foy as Lisbeth, and LaKeith Stanfield as Needham. But if you are going into the film expecting to see a film in same vein as the previous ones, you may be left in the cold.
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