EXPECTATIONS: A change in execution of the crime procedural storytelling of the prior films.
REVIEW: Lisbeth Salander is back! In another reiteration! Over the years, we have had four films revolving around characters created by acclaimed Swedish author Stieg Larsson, and they have all been hits in their home territory as well as received rave reviews from many critics.
Many people have complimented the Scandinavian cinematic thriller tropes (i.e. winter settings, moments of contemplation, downbeat tone, social commentary), the stellar performances from its two leads (Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander; Michael Nyqvist and Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist) and the gripping crime procedural storytelling.
After the long development stage that involved discontinuing the stages that director David Fincher had started, Sony Pictures have created a soft reboot of the story by adapting The Girl in the Spider’s Web, written by David Lagercrantz. With director Fede Alvarez (who specializes in horror films) and talented actors Claire Foy and Sverrir Gudnason as both Salander and Blomkvist respectively, will the new Millennium film live up to the prior entries as well as stand on its own eight legs?
Set after the events of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) is recruited by fired NSA computer scientist Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to steal FireWall, a computer program that can access codes for nuclear weapons worldwide.
The download soon draws attention from Alona Casales (Lakeith Stanfield), an NSA agent who traces the activity to Stockholm. Further problems arise when Russian thugs (led by Claes Bang) take Lisbeth’s laptop and kidnap a math whiz who can make FireWall work.
Now, Lisbeth must reunite with Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrin Gudnason), who is stuck between writing jobs since Salander’s absence, to race against time to save the boy and recover the codes to avert worldwide disaster.
It feels quite necessary to point out the elephant in the room and get it out of the way before this review can continue. Much like the book it is based on, the film version of The Girl in the Spider’s Web is very little like the prior films over the past decade, which is bound to upset those who are familiar with the stories.
In interviews, director Fede Alvarez had said that his film takes on more of a James Bond approach, as opposed to an Agatha Christie approach. And it is on those terms that The Girl in the Spider’s Web succeeds as a thriller, as opposed as a crime procedural like the earlier films.
Alvarez compensates the lack of characterizations and psychological depth with thrills, tension and overall fun. He stages the action scenes with flair and swift pacing. He often litters the action scenes with oddly amusing details that make them more memorable than they are on paper, such as corpses in cars or debilitating drugs and others are littered throughout.
But what is most important is that Alvarez rarely turns Lisbeth Salander into a prototypical action hero. Since the story takes place after the prior films, the character has since become kind of a legendary figure and her rage towards patriarchy, a misogynistic society and injustice is under control.
Claire Foy clearly revels in roles with plenty of facets of rage and frustration and she does a fantastic job here. She may not have the understated menace of Noomi Rapace‘s portrayal, nor does she have the laser-focused determination of Rooney Mara‘s portrayal, but she succeeds with her own interpretation by portraying Lisbeth as a woman who survives through sheer resilience as well as a woman who is in complete control of her own emotional baggage. She gets into the physicality of the part just right as well as out-acting her co-stars with her wonderfully expressive eyes.
The supporting cast do what they can with their variable amounts of screen-time and thankfully, the majority do make the most out of it. Sylvia Hoeks shows the same magnetic presence here as she did in Blade Runner 2049, and she is still quite effective as the antagonist, Camilla Salander. Lakeith Stanfield adds a little idiosyncratic flair to the underwritten part of NSA agent Alona Casales while established talents like Stephen Merchant, Vicky Kripes, Claes Bang, Andrea Pejic, Synnøve Macody Lund and Mikael Persbrandt all lend credibility to their parts. The lone weak link is Sverrir Gudnason, who makes very little impression as Mikael Blomkvist, although it isn’t entirely his fault since the character is given little to do except dispense plot exposition.
There are some moments of ridiculousness like how Lisbeth’s hacking skills are almost honed to a superhuman level, how characters manage to move at incredible speeds and you do end up wishing for more character depth, as we only ever really care about the turmoils of the characters at face value. And these flaws really stick out when you compare them to Foy’s presence.
Overall, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is an entertaining action thriller. It may not be what the Millennium faithfuls would expect, nor is it an entry that would fit in Scandinavian Noir, but the film does well for itself; succeeding due to stylistic flair, thrills and a committed performance by Claire Foy.
This review can be also seen at THE AU REVIEW. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.
Cast: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, Claes Bang, Christopher Convery, Vicki Krieps, Cameron Britton, Synnøve Macody Lund, Beau Gadsdon, Carlotta von Falkenhayn, Hendrik Heutmann, Sonja Chan
Director: Fede Alvarez
Screenwriters: Jay Basu, Fede Alvarez, Steven Knight, based on the novel by David Lagercrantz, with characters introduced by Stieg Larsson