The Girl in the Spider’s Web is technically the second film within the series (if we only count the American iteration). Director Fede Alvarez‘s new take on David Fincher’s previous work, is essentially a worse version of Skyfall.
Lisbeth Salander, originally played by Rooney Mara, has morphed into Claire Foy. Salander is still an avenging arch-angel, a vigilante defending those who cannot defend themselves. She’s a secluded tatted punk who hangs at clubs for women to pick up, often using them to patch away her own guilt and trauma.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web, when it’s at its best, is a film about guilt. In an attempt to re-launch the franchise, the film opens with a young Salander playing chess with her sister Camilla. As we know, Lisbeth’s father was a killer, torturer, and pedophile, routinely raping his daughters. When Lisbeth and Camilla are called to their father’s room, Lisbeth attempts to save her sister—running to their home’s broken ledge overlooking a hill. Lisbeth jumps to escape, but Camilla stays with her father.
Flash-forward to the present day and we find that Lisbeth lives on the outskirts of town. She has multiple safe houses and still trusts no one, not even the journalist Mikael Blomkvist (previously played by Daniel Craig, here he’s portrayed by Sverrir Gudnason). Their relationship is complicated, and Mikael’s ordinariness makes his placement in what amounts to a spy thriller useless.
Nevertheless, the two are thrown into contact again through Lisbeth helping a weapons designer steal back his nuke launching computer program from the NSA (telling you, this is James Bond in everything but name). Lisbeth is successful, but the program is stolen from her, her place is blown up, the designer (Stephen Merchant) and his son (Christopher Convery) are in witness protection, she has the police on her tail, and an NSA operative, Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), has come to Sweden to hunt her down.
The film never delivers on the excitement that the above provokes. Every actor here is wasted. You’d be hard pressed to find a better cast in a more lackluster film. No character is emotionally sketched beyond their first few seconds on screen. Instead, Spider’s Web relies on us giving more emotion to these characters through a previously unconnected film than through its own script.
Also, for a film that wants to sell itself on female empowerment, the women in the film are underutilized. Vicky Krieps plays Erika Berger, Mickael’s current girlfriend/lover. Here, Krieps portrays another character who fauns over a man, but unlike Phantom Thread, she finds little emotional autonomy. Instead, she’s wasted in a useless bit part. The villain, played by Sylvia Hoeks, never goes beyond being a generic, scorned, and damaged evildoer. Even Lisbeth has a bit of her sheen taken away. In previous iterations, the character was unique. Here, you could cycle her out with Lara Croft and I wouldn’t know the difference.
The film’s flaws make sense when you consider that The Girl in the Spider’s Web is the first adaption that doesn’t originate from author Stieg Larsson (Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004). Instead, this iteration was written by David Lagercrantz in 2015. Lisbeth’s journey very much mirrors that of James Bond in Skyfall (2012). The Swedish title of The Girl in the Spider’s Web is “That which does not kill us.” Spider’s Web would be a better filmed if it honed in on this sentiment, but it doesn’t. Instead, it has competing aesthetic styles: raw techno feel (almost John Wick-ish) and the dark emotional reckoning. The two cannot survive together, and what results is a tonal mess.
The film is almost single handedly kept afloat because of Foy. Even through a screenplay whose turns and contrivances become more unbearable and outlandish by the second, she delivers with purpose, lines whose only purpose lies in her ability to deliver them. When Lisbeth finally confronts her past, it only makes us wish that more of the film followed its melancholic and trauma-riddled sequence. It makes us wish Foy was given the entirety of the The Girl in the Spider’s Web to shape and explore the inner-psyche of this “spy.” Instead, and unfortunately, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a generic cash grab that lacks the unique artistry required for a strong female lead.