Starring: Claire Foy (First Man), Sylvia Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049), LaKeith Stanfield (Death Note), Stephen Merchant (Logan), Cameron Britton (Mindhunter), Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread), Sverrir Gudnason (Borg McEnroe)
Director: Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe)
Writers: Jay Basu (Monsters: Dark Continent) & Fede Alvarez and Steven Knight (Eastern Promises)
Runtime: 1 hour 57 minutes
Release Date: 9 November (US), 21 November (UK)
Despite being by most accounts a pretty good film, David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Maybe Sony overestimated the popularity of the books, maybe making an English-language version after the acclaimed Swedish-language film trilogy concluded was too soon for audiences; there is likely no one reason it failed at the box office. But Sony doesn’t seem to want to let the property die, and so after seven years they’ve instead churned out this soft reboot based on one of the books not written by original author Stieg Larrson at half the budget of the first. And you thought the order they adapted Dan Brown novels was confusing…
The Girl in the Spider’s Web never seems interested in answering whether the film is a true follow-up to Fincher’s film or not, and that makes it a confusing film from the off for both fans and newcomers. The events of not only Dragon Tattoo but its sequels have seemingly already occurred, and the relationship between Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist is now in a completely different place than it was at the end of Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo, so a degree of familiarity with the property is expected. However, that doesn’t make this an easy entry point to the series, and fans will be confused about what exactly is canon or not. It’s like watching a reboot of your favourite TV show, but they’ve started the story at season four whilst still referencing events that happened in the first three; it’s a confusing approach to say the least.
But getting past the confusing continuity, the film as a standalone piece is a fairly run-of-the-mill thriller. There’s not a single element of the film’s plot that you haven’t seem used in other similar stories, making the proceedings fairly predictable right from the start. The film is paced well-enough, but it feels like a lot of detail has been trimmed to make that happen, leading to a narrative that hits all the right notes but never in a distinctive way. The stakes this time around are much higher this time around, with potential world-affecting consequences, but these only serve to rob the series of its more grounded identity. At the same time, Spider’s Web wants to make the story more personal for Salander, but this mashed with all the talk of nuclear weapons and international espionage makes for a mix that pushes the franchise in a far too Hollywood direction. The film far more resembles a Jason Bourne movie than a Scandinavian crime story, and these attempts to make the material more accessible to a wider audience have only made it more generic.
Claire Foy is an excellent actress and Lisbeth Salander is certainly an iconic character that she should excel at slipping into, but she unfortunately doesn’t fully embrace the idiosyncrasies of the character. Her performance is far less captivating and unique than either Noomi Rapace or Rooney Mara were in the role, and instead they’ve almost made her too relatable. This isn’t exactly helped by the script, which never quite does a good enough job of defining Salander’s motivations story or character-wise. She’s too anti-social to be likable, too righteous to be hateable, and not fascinating enough to compensate for either of those issues. In short, the character lacks enough definition to work as a standalone protagonist without prior knowledge of her previous exploits. For all her efforts, Foy feels more like she’s half-heartedly dressing up as Salander for Halloween rather than effectively playing her.
As for the rest of the cast, everyone else is serviceable but unremarkable. Sverrir Gudnason’s Mikael Blomkvist feels like an afterthought, kept around simply because of his presence in the previous stories but without anything important to add to the plot or his character development. LaKeith Stanfield’s role has potential but it doesn’t reveal itself until far too late into the film, whilst Stephen Merchant feels wasted in a role that could’ve been played by anyone. The only other performance of any remark is Sylvia Hoeks as the antagonist, even if it feels like she’s stepped out of a completely different movie, but she enters the plot far too late and her connection with Salander never feels truly genuine.
Director Fede Alvarez has previously proven himself to be a unique voice with Don’t Breathe and the remake of Evil Dead, but here any sign this was his work feels muted at best. Instead, the entire production feels like a poor imitation of Fincher’s aesthetic on Dragon Tattoo, right down to it again using a Bond-esque opening titles sequence but without the distinctive flair or energising music choice that made those credits memorable. Much like how Peter Berg couldn’t copy Michael Bay with Battleship and Tate Taylor similarly couldn’t copy Fincher with The Girl on the Train, Alvarez here has sacrificed his own voice and talents to fit the brief of a film he technically isn’t even making a sequel too, and the final product in the end feels like a film that belongs to no one.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is like a passable but unremarkable episode of a TV show long past its prime. There’s nothing here you can’t get in a multitude of other better films, and its approach to its story world and characters makes it hard to recommend to either diehard fans or newcomers. I’m not sure what I would have done in Sony’s shoes (except, I don’t know, not make the movie) but this was certainly a unique but ineffective way to jumpstart the franchise. Perhaps the most sensible thing to do at this point is let the property rest and start again from the beginning in a couple of decades or so.
FINAL VERDICT: 5/10