Webbed feat not quite a per­fect fit

Mercury (Hobart) - - ENTERTAINMENT -

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:

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