Foy trades Queen Liz for volatile vig­i­lante Lis­beth

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - ARTS & CULTURE - By Jake Coyle “The Girl in the Spi­der’s Web” is screen­ing in Beirut-area cin­e­mas.

NEW YORK: No, “The Girl in the Spi­der’s Web” isn’t a Spi­der-man spinoff about a young woman en­snared by Peter Parker, but you’d be for­given for think­ing the lat­est, it­er­a­tion of Stieg Lars­son’s thrillers has some su­per­hero DNA.

Lis­beth Sa­lan­der’s third big-screen in­car­na­tion in nine years, has mor­phed the aveng­ing Stock­holm hacker into a blander ac­tion hero, com­plete with a Bat­man-and-Robin-like band of white across her eyes.

Fol­low­ing the spikey Swedish tril­ogy, with Noomi Ra­pace, and David Fincher’s men­ac­ing and murky “The Girl With the Dragon Tat­too,” with Rooney Mara, we can pal­pa­bly feel Lis­beth (here, Claire Foy) be­ing lured out of the shad­ows and to­ward the movie main­stream.

In this lat­est chap­ter, Lis­beth strives, like a Scan­di­na­vian 007, to keep a world-threat­en­ing atomic weapons pro­gram dubbed “Fire­fall” out of the wrong hands.

Di­rected by Uruguayan-born Fede Al­varez (of “Don’t Breathe” fame), the film smooths away some of the rough edges of a saga pred­i­cated on them, re­sult­ing in a com­pe­tent but in­dis­tin­guish­able thriller.

Lis­beth, a volatile cy­ber­punk vig­i­lante pro­pelled by her own demons of abuse, re­mains a great char­ac­ter in search of a de­cent plot.

It’s a shame, too, be­cause a fear­some woman met­ing out jus­tice for de­testable men is kind of ap­pro­pri­ate right now. In the first scene – the most comic book-like of them all – Lis­beth strings up an of­fend­ing hus­band like a fish while gut­ting his bank ac­count and, with a few clicks, trans­fer­ring his sav­ings to his vic­tim­ized wife. Bat­man could do no bet­ter. Such ex­changes quickly re­cede in fa­vor of a larger con­spir­acy that ropes in the NSA (Lakeith Stan­field plays an agent), a Rus­sian gang called the Spi­ders (with Claes Bang) and the Swedish au­thor­i­ties.

It be­gins when Sa­lan­der is ap­proached by a for­mer NSA agent (Stephen Mer­chant) – who built the soft­ware pro­gram and only now is con­cerned that the abil­ity to launch ev­ery nu­clear weapon on the planet might ac­tu­ally be a bad idea.

Soon, all man­ner of vil­lain is af­ter him, his young but bril­liant son (Christo­pher Con­very) and Sa­lan­der. The in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Mikael Blomkvist (Sver­rir Gud­na­son in the part pre­vi­ously played by Daniel Craig and Michael Nyqvist) is around at times but makes lit­tle im­pres­sion.

The story also con­nects, we sense, some­how to Sa­lan­der’s own past, her in­ces­tu­ous fa­ther and a sis­ter be­lieved to have died years ago.

Snip­pets of flash­backs give a win­dow into the scars be­neath Sa­lan­der’s tat­toos, while de rigueur ac­tion set pieces pro­pel the movie slowly along, as if it for­got to pick up a sense of sus­pense along the way.

(In one novel twist, Sa­lan­der, in mid-car chase, hacks into the other ve­hi­cle and takes con­trol of it. The so-called In­ter­net of Things may sound the death knell for the pro­longed get­away.)

Penned by Al­varez, Steven Knight and Jay Basu, “The Girl in the Spi­der’s Web” is based on the fourth novel in the se­ries and the first writ­ten by David Lager­crantz. (Lars­son died in 2004.) They haven’t done Foy, one of the most ex­cit­ing ac­tresses around, any fa­vors in sad­dling her with a for­get­table in­ter­na­tional es­pi­onage tale. The su­perla­tive cast is wasted, gen­er­ally, in­clud­ing Vicky Krieps, Stan­field and Bang.

As com­pelling as Foy is, she’s also miss­ing a qual­ity that any Lis­beth ought to have. It has noth­ing to do with shed­ding the prim­ness of her Queen El­iz­a­beth II for Sa­lan­der’s jet-black hair and pierc­ings.

The great­est ten­sion in Lars­son’s “Mil­len­nium” se­ries is how Sa­lan­der so bris­tles with unease in the world, even while she ex­pertly ma­nip­u­lates ev­ery­thing in it.

There’s no such con­flict in “The Girl in the Spi­der’s Web,” a com­mon thriller for an un­com­mon hero­ine.

Foy in a scene from “The Girl in the Spi­der’s Web.”

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