Webbed feat not quite a perfect fit
The lead role of Lisbeth Salander has also been recast, with Claire Foy ( The Crown) now taking on the iconic role of the Swedish hacker and vigilante, this time being hired by a computer programmer to steal a piece of software from the National Security Agency in the US.
The programmer, Balder (Stephen Merchant), is responsible for creating a program that will allow a single user to access the entire world’s nuclear arsenal simultaneously (let’s not spend too long pondering why anyone would actually do this). He hires Salander to steal the sole copy of the program so it can be destroyed.
Once Salander successfully acquires it, she finds herself at the centre of a greater conspiracy to steal it from her, but the mastermind behind the plot remains hidden.
The best thing about this new instalment (yes, it’s in English) is Claire Foy, the third actor to play the part, who slips into the lead role with great confidence and commitment, presenting us with a Salander who is impish, hard, inscrutable and almost androgynous.
She is entrancing to watch on screen, always exuding a cold air of total calm and control. Yet somehow the story seems to tell us so little about her.
Yes, we learn some more of her traumatic back-story during the film, but through some quirk of storytelling I still can’t quite put a finger on, this complex, tragic and fascinating character comes across as little more than an archetype, an under-explored person who is virtually a spectator in her own movie at times.
Partly this is probably to do with a slight shift in tone and genre for this instalment. While it has elements of a thriller, The Girl in the Spider’s Web has more in common with an action movie, with a chain of action sequences linked loosely together by a fairly simple conspiracy story.
Action movies tend to be just that, driven by the action on screen, rather than by the psychology and personalities of a thriller movie. And in an action movie, we don’t need to know too much about the lead character, we don’t necessarily need an insightful deep-dive into her personality and inner workings. We just need her to be in a certain place at a certain time ready for the next car chase or explosion.
And this is pretty much how Spider’s Web unfolds, which is a shame because it feels like a waste of not only a treasured and textured character, but also of the excellent performance from the actress playing her.
All that aside, as an action movie it plays out quite well. It is certainly engrossing and exciting, and director Fede Alvarez has captured that grim Scandi-noir aesthetic and tone very well. It’s not quite as authentic as the Swedish production, of course, but close enough to work.
The conspiracy story, for the most part, is also quite well crafted. For most of the film it unfolds very smoothly, and the pieces fit together very satisfactorily. And for an action movie, this is great — it feels like a puzzle, but it’s not so distracting that it draws your attention away from the action.
But there is a point in the final act where a big plot twist is introduced that feels like hitting a brick wall. While very clever, and logically sound (I think), this twist didn’t feel like as clean a fit as everything else leading up to it. It feels unnecessarily convoluted and I had to spend a good five or 10 minutes trying to run it back through my brain to figure out how it worked, which was very distracting.
While the rest of the plotting was reasonably straightforward, this piece took a bit of mental acrobatics to reconcile with the rest of the story so far. It was a shock, after so much simplicity, to get something that I had to work so hard to get my head around. It pulled me out of the groove I was in.
And there are some distractingly odd character decisions throughout the movie as well that just don’t seem to make a lot of sense. Despite Salander’s considerable experience and resourcefulness, she seems genuinely unprepared for the possibility that the NSA might notice her hacking into their systems and stealing something, which she then just keeps on a table in her flat.
A scene in which she makes an ingenious getaway on a bridge shows the genius level of perception Salander operates on, yet she thought stealing a black Lamborghini from a parking lot full of ordinary cars would be the best way to escape unnoticed?
As an action thriller, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is fairly good fun. It is fast, entertaining and stylish. But as a soft reboot of a popular franchise, it may have been a tad careless with its source material and a shade too populist in its style. (MA15) is now showing at Village Cinemas, the State Cinema and Cmax. Rating: