It’s hard to know where to start with Sony’s attempt at relaunching the Lisbeth Salander series. The American interpretation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was met with positive reviews but a middling box office. Despite high praise for Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig as Lisbeth and Mikael respectively, seven years after that relative commercial failure, Sony has hit the reboot button.
A “soft reboot” is the term of the day. There’s a new cast and director; we’re very much in the territory of a sequel. The credit sequence is in the same style as last time – albeit scored superbly by Roque Banos as opposed to a cover version of “Immigrant Song” – and while the characters have new faces, it does feel as if the film is trying to convince us that this is taking place sometime after the events of the first film, even though there two other books prior to this, already having been filmed in Sweden.
Instead of adapting the other Stieg Larsson novels, on which screenplay work had been done, incoming director Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe, the Evil Dead remake) and screenwriter Steven Knight (creator of Peaky Blinders and writer/director of Locke) have taken the first of the non-Larsson novels, written by David Lagercrantz, a book not even adapted in its native Sweden, as a means for a fresh start.
The biggest problem here? None of it feels fresh.
Make no mistake, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is by no means a bad film. In fact, it’s one that on its own merits has a lot to enjoy. It moves at a fast pace, Fede Alvarez directs with a stylish hand and it has the incredible boost that comes from Claire Foy’s performance. The issue is that it never feels like it should have Lisbeth Salander as its lead character.
David Fincher’s 2011 thriller may have been a remake of a film that had come only two years previously, but it still felt new and unique, mainly because it was filtered through his ability to marry his own brand of stylish filmmaking to a script and story with substance. It may have had the spectre of a great Swedish film and a star-making performance from Noomi Rapace hanging over it, but it managed to break away from that and become its own thing thanks to the visual style, Steven Zaillian’s script, a Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score and superb performances from Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig.
Despite the good intentions here, one can’t help but feel that in light of the near three-hour investigative thriller that dealt with themes of toxic masculinity, sexual violence and enjoyable procedural elements that didn’t do well last time, Sony and everyone involved has decided that the best way to make money off this thing is to try and put the franchise on the same footing as James Bond, or Jason Bourne, or even Jack Ryan, given the story involves nuclear weapons and various strands of the National Security Agencies of both the United States and Sweden.
Putting Lisbeth Slander in the midst of a geopolitical thriller, albeit one connected to her by family, seems wrong. Larsson’s thrillers and the subsequent film adaptations dealt with grounded crime. Sure, the storytelling was heightened and had some pulp sensibilities, but to turn Salander into a Jason Bourne figure, getting into chases with the police on foot and with motorcycles – and a villain who she is related to – feels like a wrong move. In trying to get audiences to go for this thing, they had to make Lisbeth somewhat of a superhero, albeit one without superpowers.
It ends up making the film feel like every other action movie franchise out there. Just calling a Lisbeth Salander film an “action movie franchise” feels wrong in itself. Putting a female character front and centre of an action movie is always a novelty that really shouldn’t be a novelty. The image of a female protagonist and antagonist fighting over the fate of the world is in itself interesting to see, but given the themes of the previous films and books, and the #MeToo movement, it’s a shame that a character who has always been the one to fight against toxic masculinity has been brought back to star in the type of action movie that has been made several times before in Hollywood.
The action sequences are admittedly well staged, with one close quarters bathroom fight scene a particular highlight, but it is as if Sony decided to take a discarded script for a James Bond film and replace the characters with that of Salander’s, which is funny given the last film in the series featured Daniel Craig.
In the midst of it all is Claire Foy whose performance elevates The Girl in the Spider’s Web above its tonal problems. The first time we see her, in a sequence where she saves a domestic abuse victim, her figure framed against a set of wings that make her look as if she’s some glorious dark angel of death, is fantastic and her performance never falters for one second.
Some may have scoffed at the idea of “The Queen” from The Crown being cast as the iconic goth computer hacker, but she more than holds her own against the legacy of Rapace and Mara and right from the opening moment she is Lisbeth.
As an action vehicle and possibly different franchise launch for Foy, it might have worked more than fine; and while the film plays out in front of you, it’s hard not to be swept along with it. However, there is that nagging sensation that the story and its narrative thrust just seem wrong for the character of Salander who suits more grounded, darker stories that centre on crime.
Foy more than elevates the material with looks and glances that convey a lot, but without her performance spelling it out too much. She brings the complex sensibilities to the character alive with a dark grace that, given the box office performance of the film in the US and lukewarm critical reception it has been given, it’s almost a shame that, like Rooney Mara, this will probably be the only time we’ll see her in the role.
By the time we get to the last act, we’re knee-deep into chase scenes, a huge set piece finale in a gothic, abandoned mansion, some classic cases of talking killer syndrome and character betrayals. On its own, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is more than fine and not without entertainment, but as a Dragon Tattoo story, it feels as if the lead character has mistakenly walked into the wrong film.