Director: Fede Álvarez
Screenplay: Jay Basu, Fede Álvarez, Steven Knight
Starring: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, LaKeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant
Runtime: 115 Minutes
The unusual circumstance of witnessing the death of genre or sub-genre in Hollywood is that even when the genre is more or less pronounced dead by the filmgoing collective, the last gasps can sometimes be felt like a prolonged anguish as a film realises too late that it’s no longer desired or needed by audiences.
Such an example is happening here, with the release of The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Ostensibly a sequel to the David Fincher Dragon Tattoo adaptation, but also serving as a soft reboot with a new cast and crew on board to keep the franchise alive with Sony Pictures long enough to wring at least one more movie out of the once lucrative paperback franchise created by the late Stieg Larsson.
But the most tragic circumstance beyond the fact that this is yet another Nordic Noir riding the ripples of that final sad wave caused by the release of The Snowman last year, or the fact that Sony Pictures is a reprehensible example of the gluttony of mainstream filmmaking and the franchise mentality – so utterly contemptible that they shit this one out in the space of a year just to keep the factory lights on in spite of the promising attributes of the previous film – but that it feels like the most senseless waste of a fantastically aligned cast and crew for a project like this.
The core issue is the script, with three individuals sharing a credit but no single voice to be heard amongst the rabble of a generic revenge thriller concerning espionage, family ties and dark secrets (that aren’t all that secret to begin with). It sees Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) being framed for yet another murder and hunted in a conspiracy plot with a technological MacGuffin, this time executed by her crazy sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) for reasons that make little sense to the plot and even less sense by the end.
It doesn’t help that this happens to be based off the first book published after Larsson’s death, and one that received such a lukewarm response with its divergences from the original Millennium trilogy and its occasionally ludicrous nature. It’s all laboriously structured nonsense that comes across as so much more pitiful to watch as opposed to just boring, because the pedigree involved are all here trying their best to elevate the material.
Director Fede Álvarez is mostly just gunning for a paycheck and some underlying themes regarding tormentable emotional baggage, with only a handful of scenes in which he is allowed to delve deep into his twisted goodie back of dark delights involving torture and violence to a more tamed back degree, one of which has our hero trapped in a rubber coating and while her tormenter suctions all the air out. Its dynamically shot at times by cinematographer Pedro Luque, with some strong lighting choices but very little else in the design standing out.
Foy is pretty much on form here as the latest screen incarnation of everybody’s favourite goth hacker, here taking the mantle as “the woman who hurts men who hurt women” in both a sly nod to the original books Swedish title in a gambit to lean into the feminist retribution angle, and scoop up the performer before she can start demanding more serious money.
It proves just how chameleonic an actor she is that she really does vanish into it, even if the character she’s playing bears little comparison to the one from the books or even the previous film. She has pathos and dark charm with physical emotion boiling up at points, but as with other actors, she too often feels adrift in a film that’s overpopulated with way too many characters with too little to do to justify their existence.
LaKeith Stanfield as NSA security expert Edwin Needham feels extraneous to nearly everything going on. Stephen Merchant is just kind of there for a bit before he isn’t. Sverrir Gudnason gets literally nothing to do as a character who was originally one of the two main protagonists, and it’s kind of shocking that given we’re supposed to take him as the same character that Craig played in the previous film, the film just assumes that any audience member with a faded memory of the first film would immediately understand that it was the same one.
But poor Sylvia Hoeks comes off worst of all. Hoeks broke out last year with a remarkably demented turn in Blade Runner 2049 which no doubt solidified her casting here as an equally psychopathic character with empathetic strands, but the dialogue that she is handed to read alongside some of the blotchiest characterisation of any central figure in the series so far is painful to watch. Even though she’s really trying to make her limited screen time as compelling as possible.
The Girl in the Spider's Web is what we get when the studio producing it doesn’t really care either way as to whether or not it’s any good, instead about sustaining their hold on the rights for another few years. They’ve turned the initially promising premise, world and characters brought to life by previous versions and Larsson’s dense and pulpy text into just another action thriller, elevated slightly by the watchability of two of it’s leading ladies.