A new look, and face, for this hero­ine

The Prince George Citizen - - A&e - Michael O’SUL­LI­VAN

Some­thing’s dif­fer­ent about Lis­beth Sa­lan­der. Could it be the hair?

To be sure, the tit­u­lar pro­tag­o­nist of The Girl in the Spi­der’s Web: A New Dragon Tat­too Story has changed her look dra­mat­i­cally since 2011’s The Girl With the Dragon Tat­too. There, she sported an asym­met­ri­cal, home­made-look­ing punk-rock mop and sev­eral scary fa­cial pierc­ings. Here, she looks like a me­dieval monk who time-trav­eled to the West Vil­lage: hip, but just this side of se­vere.

One other thing: the char­ac­ter in the new film is played by Claire Foy. The other one was played by Rooney Mara.

And yet there are more changes than meet the eye in this sec­ond Amer­i­can film based on the en­dear­ingly dam­aged, aveng­ing-com­puter-hacker char­ac­ter cre­ated by the late Swedish writer Stieg Lars­son. Skip­ping books two and three of Lars­son’s best­selling tril­ogy, which have not yet been made into Hol­ly­wood films, and pos­si­bly never will be, Spi­der’s Web has jumped ahead, tak­ing its in­spi­ra­tion from a fourth Lis­beth Sa­lan­der novel that was writ­ten by David Lager­crantz af­ter Lars­son’s death. (Lars­son’s do­mes­tic part­ner, Eva Gabriels­son, has bit­terly crit­i­cized Lager­crantz’s book as “grave rob­bing.”)

It’s as if, in this go-round, the dragon tat­too that adorns much of Lis­beth’s body has been re­placed with a logo.

Judg­ing only by th­ese two films, the Lis­beth of Tat­too – at once feral, bril­liant, an­gry, eth­i­cally chal­lenged and, in all like­li­hood, some­where on the spec­trum – has mor­phed into a kind of elite ninja war­rior and in­ter­na­tional cy­ber­crim­i­nal: an emo­tion­ally dis­tant Jane Bond with a bad at­ti­tude and a black belt in Krav Maga.

In some re­spects, this Lis­beth doesn’t feel like the same per­son, even tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion her char­ac­ter’s evo­lu­tion in the in­ter­ven­ing books (which did get made into Swedish movies star­ring Noomi Ra­pace). The Lis­beth of Spi­der’s Web is still, as she is var­i­ously de­scribed in the new movie, a “hacker with a his­tory of ag­gra­vated as­sault,” “the girl who rights wrongs,” “the girl who hurts men who hurts women” and a “freak.” But there’s a level of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and pol­ish to what she does that is slightly off-putting.

It’s as if, in this go-round, the dragon tat­too that adorns much of Lis­beth’s body had been re­placed with a logo. As this movie’s un­gainly sub­ti­tle sug­gests, the freak has be­come a fran­chise.

In many re­spects, the fault lies not with Lis­beth but with the overly con­ven­tional story she’s caught up in, like a – sorry – spi­der’s web. Af­ter the Stock­holm­based Lis­beth is hired to steal soft­ware from the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency – a pro­gram that would en­able any user to ac­cess the mil­i­tary ar­se­nals of any coun­try – she has sec­ond thoughts about hand­ing it over, even to the guy who cre­ated it (Stephen Mer­chant). But other, po­ten­tially less scrupu­lous peo­ple want it, too: the NSA agent who let it slip through his fin­gers (Lakeith Stan­field); his coun­ter­part in Swedish in­tel­li­gence; and a shad­owy col­lec­tive of mer­ce­nar­ies and arms bro­kers known as the Spi­ders.

Events pro­ceed as they so of­ten do in th­ese things. Cars are chased and bul­lets are dodged – some less suc­cess­fully than oth­ers – un­til the cliches start clang­ing like clock­work, drown­ing out what was so ap­peal­ing about Lis­beth in the first place; her quiet, al­most mes­mer­iz­ing bro­ken­ness. (She’s a sur­vivor whose trauma, per­versely, feeds her, as we learn in a flash­back pro­logue to Lis­beth’s child­hood. A tan­ta­liz­ing bit of per­sonal his­tory, and how it has em­pow­ered her, is re­vealed.)

Foy makes for a mag­netic, if poker-faced, hero­ine, even if her part­ner, jour­nal­ist Mikael Blomqvist, is a washout this time. Re­plac­ing Tat­too’s Daniel Craig, Swedish ac­tor Sver­rir Gud­na­son has a much smaller role here as Lis­beth’s side­kick – and a much more for­get­table screen pres­ence.

Spi­der’s Web may have its flaws, in­clud­ing a bit of vil­lain­ous mo­ti­va­tion so over­sim­pli­fied it makes Dr. Evil’s thought pro­cesses look like Ein­stein’s. And yet de­spite Lis­beth’s makeover, there’s still some­thing cool, com­pli­cated and com­pelling about this Girl.

Lis­beth may be stuck in a silly movie, but she’s no­body’s vic­tim.

— Two and one-half stars out of four

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