Monday 26 November 2018

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Fede Álvarez, 2018)

Brabant native Sylvia Hoeks stole more than a few scenes in last year's excellent Blade Runner 2049, and she portrays a similarly villainous character in The Girl in the Spider's Web, which is also a sequel - or is it?  While it follows the 2011 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this latest film skips the next two books and jumps ahead to the fourth instalment in the Millenium series, which was the first in the saga to be written by David Lagercrantz following the death of Stieg Larsson.  And while David Fincher, director of the 2011 movie, here returns in the form of executive producer, this latest film features an all-new cast.  Confused yet?  If not, consider also the Swedish trilogy of movies based on Larsson's books, which were combined and augmented to create TV miniseries Millennium, with the resulting show subsequently cut in three to form new, extended versions of the trilogy.  Great material for a Venn diagram.

So, where does The Girl in the Spider's Web fit in to this chaotic canon?  Is it part two?  Part five?  Or even part four, if we simply go with the order of the books?  I have no real idea, but as this new film appears to be a reboot it could quite reasonably be seen as the first in a planned new series, one which probably won't go any further if the box office takings thus far are anything to go by.  The expensive 2011 film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did eventually drag itself past the $100 million mark in its domestic market (thanks in no small part to the casting of Daniel Craig), but was largely met with indifference, and few clamoured for a sequel; The Girl in the Spider's Web, while made on less than half the budget of Fincher's film, will probably meet with similarly modest success.  It appears that English-language movies of the Millennium series have proved something of a tough sell to audiences long saturated in Scandi-noir; the books, on the other hand, continue to sell by the boatload.

In any case, The Girl in the Spider's Web works as a standalone film, so you'll be just fine if this marks your first experience of any of the Millennium stories.  Lisbeth Salander, the girl who hurts men who hurt women, is played this time around by Claire Foy, and the British actress acquits herself very well.  The film is still in its early stages when we witness the cheering sight of her stringing up some woman-beating lowlife, but Lisbeth's bread and butter is soon abandoned in favour of a plot revolving around Firefall, a computer program which can access nuclear codes around the globe (and which sounds, in both name and purpose, much like an unused Bond idea).  If this wasn't based on a book, you'd swear that the entire plot was written on the back of an empty Ahlgrens bilar packet.

Salander is tasked with retrieving the program from the Americans after its author (a miscast Stephen Merchant) has misgivings about his creation, and a job which may have taken an entire film to complete is dealt with most swiftly by our heroine.  Of course, there's much more to come, as Lisbeth isn't able to hold on to the program for long as it's plucked from her hands by an international crime syndicate known as, yep, The Spiders; cue numerous frantic chases around a Stockholm where apparently no-one speaks Swedish.  The syndicate has more than one link to Lisbeth's murky past, and their identities emerge following some digging by Salander's journalist ex Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason).

Hoeks enters the film fairly late on, although her part is the important one of Camilla, the sister who was left behind when Lisbeth escaped their abusive father (a pre-credits scene fills us in on the girls' traumatic childhood).  As you may expect, Camilla is resentful of the fact that she was left to face her father's depravity alone, and she turns up as a grown woman in no mood to forgive.  Although you can sort of understand where she's coming from - Lisbeth's departure presumably doubled Camilla's torment - her father is infinitely more deserving of her ire than her sister.  Despite Camilla's harrowing backstory, Hoeks' role here is another unsympathetic one following her turn in the Blade Runner sequel, and she should perhaps be wary of becoming typecast in such parts.  Foy, on the other hand, is inhabiting a role very different from her one in TV show The Crown, and she should consider herself rather unlucky to have starred in two films this year which have performed well below expectations; Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, in which Foy played the astronaut's wife, also never really got off the ground in terms of box office.

While this reboot certainly has a slick, streamlined and uncomplicated feel to it, it lacks real urgency or tension, with Lisbeth's near-invincibility telegraphing her survival in even the tightest of corners.  It also largely dispenses with Blomkvist, arguably as big a part of the Millennium series as Salander, and reduces him to an inconsequential supporting character (despite Gudnason's prominent billing).  Director Álvarez, as the man behind Don't Breathe and the Evil Dead remake, is someone who might have been expected to bring much more of an edge to the story, but the end result is as unmemorable as it is ordinary, with only a couple of flourishes reminiscent of his inventive prior work in evidence here.  While it's always a serviceable film, and far worse movies will fare much better in terms of revenue, The Girl in the Spider's Web's inevitable hasty retreat from multiplexes will almost certainly spell the end for Lisbeth's big-screen adventures.  Perhaps we should all just stick to the books?

Darren Arnold

Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons