You just can’t keep a good Swede down!
After tragically passing away due to health complications in 2004, Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson saw his Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) posthumously published in 2008 to both critical and commercial success.
They were eventually adapted into a series of middling Swedish films (the trilogy fronted by Noomi Rapace) before, in 2011, director David Fincher (Seven, Gone Girl) took to it with his slick eye and made a genuinely thrilling stand-alone feature of the original (Dragon Tattoo) with Rooney Mara headlining; the role would ultimately net her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
For the next addition in the Millennium saga, Larsson, Fincher and Mara are all gone, here the latter two replaced by Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe) and Claire Foy (TV’s The Crown), working off prose written by David Lagercrantz, a fellow Swede who continued Larsson’s work following permission from his literary estate.
Whilst the character at the centre of the Millennium series has remained the same – vengeful Swedish hacker Lisbeth Salander – the change of hand in all aspects has skewered her ever so. Yes, she’s still moonlighting as a righter-of-wrongs (predominantly punishing men who have abused women) but she’s also something of a super-spy here (think Bond, Bourne, or even Batman), hunting down those who are capable of starting a nuclear war.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with Lisbeth adopting this persona, but she deserves to be tackling issues that run far deeper to the point of disturbance, and the film’s opening moments indeed hint at this type of material. As a youngen who escaped the incestuous clutches of her father, and in the process left her helpless sister to his “care”, Lisbeth seemed destined for a life helping those who couldn’t save themselves; one of Spider’s Web‘s earlier moments sees Lisbeth, complete with vigilante-approved facepaint, string up a businessman acquitted of crimes against women and teach him a lesson – via his testicles – that he’s unlikely to forget.
As unpleasant as that scene sounds it doesn’t touch the discomfort felt in Fincher’s film, and, somewhat unfortunately, it’s the most series-organic Lisbeth is with the remainder of Spider’s Web descending into typical spy movie fare when she’s sought out by a computer developer (Stephen Merchant) who wants her to steal an advanced program from the National Security Agency that could arm them with the ability to remotely detonate nuclear missiles the world over.
We’re unsurprised when her success is marred by a group of Euro-villains dubbing themselves The Spiders, and eventually it leads to her long-lost sister Camilla (an appropriately frosty Sylvia Hoeks) who, shall we say, is less interested in reconciliation and more intent on torture; by the time they come face-to-face, the two of them starkly contrasted in Lisbeth’s black attire and Camilla’s near-cartoonish red leather and blonde hair and brows, we’ve completely accepted Alvarez’s choice to void the film of subtlety.
Enthusiasts of Larsson’s original trilogy (either the books or the native films) or those fond of Fincher’s version may detract from Alvarez’s vision. Any of the trauma detailed in Lisbeth’s past has been pushed aside, instead replaced with a generic “save the world” mentality that admittedly works in the capable hands of Foy, but can’t help but feel like a cheat to those who have invested their previous time in the character. The Girl in the Spider’s Web almost feels like a film made for the uninitiated and, in that regard, it’s a perfectly serviceable actioner that’s fronted by one hell of a woman, and features enough exciting (and conveniently timed) set pieces that seem tailor-made to please action-ready audiences; and with all the Bourne, Bond, Batman likeness, at least Spider’s Web can claim to be a better film than the last outings of the aforementioned combined.
About The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web (MA15+) is screening in Australian theatres from 8th November 2018.