Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
The novel The Girl in the Spider’s Web was the first in the “Millennium” series not to be written by the franchise’s late creator Stieg Larsson. Written by David Lagercrantz, the novel continues the adventures of vigilante hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist, last seen on screen in director David Fincher’s American remake of the Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The cast and crew are completely new, with Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez taking over the reins and Claire Foy stepping into the role of the iconic title character.
Lisbeth Salander is described by one of the other characters as “the righter of wrongs” and “the girl who hurts men who hurt women.” Essentially, Lisbeth is Batman, only instead of fighting the criminal underbelly of Gotham City, she is punishing the men who have gotten away with abusing women. She is also a notoriously talented hacker, which gains the attention of a computer scientist named Frans Balder. Balder has created a computer program that would put the power to launch all the world’s nuclear missiles in the hands of a single person. After realizing the inherent danger in the program he has created, Balder hires Lisbeth to steal it from then NSA so that it can be destroyed.
Stealing the program from the NSA is no sweat for Lisbeth, much to the chagrin of Ed Needham, the NSA agent in charge of the prize. No slouch himself, Ed quickly tracks the transaction to Sweden and hops on a plane to recover his stolen property. Needham is not the only one interested in retrieving the program, however, as a mysterious syndicate known as the “Spider Society” breaks into Lisbeth’s apartment to steal it from her, destroying her apartment, and nearly killing her in the process. After having tried to access the program herself, Lisbeth understands that the trick to breaking through the firewall lies with Balder’s young son August and she enlists Blomkvist to help her save him. That will prove to be an even tougher task than she expects, though, as it turns out that the head of the Spider Society is a ghost from her past.
The vigilante character of Lisbeth Salander may be closer to Batman, but the style of this movie has a James Bond feel to it. After a brief prologue, the movie transitions into an animated credit sequence that feels eerily in need of a pop theme song to accompany it. Following that, Lisbeth narrowly escapes an explosion, leads pursuers on a wild motorcycle chase, and has to fight her way out of a torture device after being captured by the villains—all escapades that 007 often finds himself in. That’s all well and good, but what hurts this movie is that there is never really any doubt about who the villain is, even though it is supposed to be a big reveal. The movie shows its hand much too early.
The movie makes up for its lack of mystery by being incredibly stylish. The cinematography by Pedro Luque looks great from start to finish and some of the shots are truly breathtaking. It makes good use of color, specifically the color red, the exclusive shade of the film’s lead villain. Her bright red clothing makes her stand out amongst the rest of the film that at times feels like it is in black and white, thanks to the multitude of nighttime scenes and the snowy environment. The art direction is also on point, and I was especially impressed by one set that looks like an abandoned planetarium, heated by giant, fire-red coils all over the walls.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web comes with an R rating and deserves it, but still feels like the most sanitized entry of any of the “Millennium” film adaptations. There is a scene early in the film when Lisbeth is torturing a powerful businessman who has just beaten his wife. She has him hung upside down from the ceiling while she lists his crimes and transfers his money to the women he has abused, but the scene ends with her tazing him and simply walking away. Compared to the way Lisbeth handled the abusive men in the previous films, this sure feels like the guy got off easy. The whole movie feels that way, as if the filmmakers shied away from taking that next step at every turn. That doesn’t necessarily hurt the film from a story perspective and might even make the franchise a bit more accessible, but it does take a little of the bite off the characteristic which made her so appealing in the first place.
Claire Foy is good in the role and I bought her as Lisbeth Salander right from the get-go. Sylvia Hoeks is also creepy good as the villain and Lakeith Stanfield and Stephen Merchant are good additions to the solid cast. Blomkvist is played by Sverrir Gudnason in this adaptation, but his part is so insignificant that it is difficult to even judge his performance, especially in comparison to the much larger roles played by Michael Nyqvist and Daniel Craig.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is an entertaining and stylish crime thriller that is a worthy soft reboot of the franchise.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.