The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

The Past Never Forgets

Director David Fincher and his The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) stars, Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, may have moved on, but that doesn’t mean Sony isn’t still keen to get a film franchise happening off the back of Stieg Larsson’s psychosexual potboiler novel series. They have, however, adopted the odd gambit of leaping nimbly over the next two books in the chronology to land on the fourth, The Girl in the Spider’s Web — notably, the first book to be penned by new author David Lagercrantz, who took over following Larsson’s death in 2004.

It’s a choice that does distance us a bit from the preceding film, so the sudden appearance of The Crown’s Claire Foy in the role of feminist vigilante hacker Lisbeth Salander instead of Mara is not as jarring as it might have been, nor is Sverrir Gudnason’s suddenly standing in the shoes of crusading journalist Mikael Blomqvist — although he seems to have gotten younger in the intervening years.

Scandinavian Superhero

What brings them back together are the machinations of Lisbeth’s sister, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), who was stuck with their abusive father Alexander Zalachenko (Mikael Persbrandt) after Lisbeth fled as a child, and has grown up into the kind of ‘dark mirror’ nemesis so beloved of comic book movies these days.

And The Girl in the Spider’s Web does feel like a fairly self-serious example of the comic book genre, with Salander being Batman in all but name. The aim here is to set up a long-running series, and director Fede Alvarez, Don’t Breathe (2016), takes pains to make Lisbeth, as a physical presence, as iconic and cool as possible — all black leather, facepaint, fast bikes, and a fearless attitude.

The problem is that this all comes at the expense of emotional resonance. Perhaps Foy, a gifted actor, is simply inhabiting the role too well. Salander, a victim of repeated horrific abuse in her past, has re-forged herself into an un-fuck-with-able urban survivor who allows nobody into her emotional interior — and that includes the audience. The result is that we never get a sense of how the events of the film are impacting Salander on a personal level, and the clash between siblings is robbed of much of its pathos.

Red Dragon

So, with emotional engagement out the window we’re left with the plot (convoluted, often interminable) and the set pieces (professionally mounted but unmemorable), and a handful of interesting actors who turn up, such as Lakeith Stanfield, Selma (2014), as an NSA agent, and Stephen Merchant, Logan (2017), as a former NSA agent, with the latter responsible for the crypto-tech McGuffin that’s driving the narrative. The Girl in the Spider’s Web motors along at a decent enough pace, and Alvarez’s pulpier instincts are better suited to the material than Fincher’s highfalutin tone (people need to stop thinking these books are classy — they’re competent thrillers, that’s all), but there’s a certain sense of inevitability to the proceedings, as if we’re just ticking boxes until we get to where we need to be in order for the credits to roll.

And there’s nothing inherently wrong with predictability — when you get down to it, the vast majority of films are written to formula — but generally speaking, you want to be engaged enough not to notice the plot signposts — or not to be bothered when you do. The Girl in the Spider’s Web fails at this pretty definitively. Don’t expect a sequel.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Travis Johnson

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is released through Sony Pictures Australia