THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB (Fede Alvarez). 117 minutes. Opens Friday (November 9). See listing. Rating: NNN
It’s been seven years since David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo failed to launch an American version of Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander novels – and if we’re being honest, maybe that was for the best.
Do you remember anything about that film besides Rooney Mara’s piercings, Daniel Craig smoking and enough sexual violence to power a season of Criminal Minds? Maybe you remember the Nazi stuff. It was all very silly, and none of it was necessary.
Still, you can’t keep a marketable brand down, so Sony regrouped, recast and relaunches the Dragon Tattoo franchise with The Girl In The Spider’s Web, subtitled A New Dragon Tattoo Story in the marketing campaign. It’s a pivot away from Fincher’s moodier, super-stylized take on the material and toward conventional action-thriller territory – to the point where it’s basically a Bond or Mission: Impossible film with Larsson’s Lisbeth in the lead.
I’m not kidding. The plot of this one, based on David Lagercrantz’s post-Larsson novel, mashes up Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Spectre, with director/co-writer Fede Alvarez leaning into the action beats and playing down the brutality and sadism. This time around, violence against women is implied rather than shown; given the verve with which both Larsson and Fincher depicted it, I’m taking that as progress, especially since Alvarez’s previous features, the Evil Dead reboot and the housebound thriller Don’t Breathe, didn’t shy away from that sort of thing.
Replacing Mara, Claire Foy offers a similar take on Lisbeth’s calculating outsider nature – but where Fincher framed Mara almost as an extra-terrestrial, Alvarez lets Foy be human, which in turn lets the story operate on a human scale. She’s still preposterously intelligent, to the point where she may as well be clairvoyant, but it doesn’t feel like she’s parachuted in from a Star Trek spinoff.
The scale of the story is still ludicrous, with a simple hacking job turning into a race to save the world from nuclear annihilation – and Lisbeth being hunted by at least four different parties, because why not. But when Alvarez finds the right gear, as in an airport set piece that borrows equally from Minority Report and The Bourne Ultimatum, with Lisbeth steering Lakeith Stanfield’s bewildered NSA operative through a perfectly timed escape, it’s enjoyably so. And “enjoyable” was not a word one could use about any of the previous Dragon Tattoo movies.
It’s also pleasing to see an actor as unpredictable as Stanfield cast in a role that could have been played by almost anyone. Alvarez does that throughout the film, tossing in Logan’s Stephen Merchant as a computer genius or Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps as a magazine editor, just to see what they’ll bring to a given moment.
Maybe it’s a way of hiding the fact that both the character of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the actor who plays him, Borg Vs. McEnroe star Sverrir Gudnason, don’t really have very much to do this time around. But Blomkvist has always been a bit of a pill, honestly; if they’re going to keep making these movies, he can sit the next one out.