Much like David Fincher’s vastly under-appreciated The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is being called a ’soft reboot’, but it is a worthy addition; a chock-a-block with action and violence but never chaotic or overstuffed.
The thematic intensity of the film sets it apart and adds to the visual style and the variety of muscular set pieces make it a notch above most action thrillers. Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez (remember the thriller from 2016’s Don’t Breathe) makes the real target clear from the opening frames which happens to be the tyranny of institutional misogyny. Sharing the fury with the movie’s protagonist Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy is brilliant), the film takes aim with a diabolical force that is deeply satisfying given the current political and social climate.
Based on the 2015 novel by David Lagercrantz, the film gets mixed reactions. Alvarez and co-screenwriters Jay Basu and Steven Knight take big liberties with the backstory, which first saw screen life in 2009 as the start of a Swedish trilogy. And, yes, the heroine still has her dragon tattoo. The Girl in the Spider’s Web starts with a flashback in which the young Lisbeth escapes from the lair of her pervert father, a Russian crime lord, leaving her sister Camilla to dad’s deviant ways. Early on, we discover her distaste for creeps when we see her truss up a man who has beaten his wife and assaulted two hookers. She posses an endless supply of gadgets that she uses on the bad guys and to hack the apparatus of a corrupt or clueless state and use it against them. The film carries a powerful theme about the twin webs of technology and emotional anguish and how they weave together to sometimes empower us, but more often keep us entrapped.
The reappearance of the now-grown Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) as a svelte blonde dressed in red sparks the action that is incredibly thrilling. She now heads a group of brutal mercenaries called the Spiders and wants to get her hands on software capable of hacking into the world’s nuclear arsenals. What triggers conflict is that Lisbeth is hired to protect the software by Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), the inventor of the program. Balder holds the passwords in the head of his six-year-old son August (Christopher Convery), an on-the-spectrum kid who brings out Lisbeth’s protective instincts. Camilla, devoid of any such emotion, kidnaps the boy. With Edwin Needham (a scene-stealing Lakeith Stanfield), a NSA security techie also on her tail, Lisbeth is cornered.
But then, she’s not. With maximum athletic grace and agility on display, Foy has a ball with the role while also supplying the nuance and grace notes. Cinematographer Pedro Luque’s whooshing camera follows Lisbeth across a Swedish obstacle course of icy roads, motorcycle chases and exploding buildings as she tries to escape the web.
Rooney Mara was excellent in the original. But Foy carries Salander’s mantle with equal confidence and authority, less skittish waif and more straight up ass kicker. The Crown actor is able to convey so much with little more than a shift of her eyes. Of the three men that eventually aid her, both Stanfield’s unconventional agent and a hacker named Plague played by Cameron Britton (Ed Kemper in Netflix’s Mindhunter) register more fully than Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason taking over for Daniel Craig). A co-star in the original film, Blomkvist has been demoted to Lisbeth’s assistant, though a subplot about how he has built his journalistic career on the back of Lisbeth plays nicely into the film’s assault on patriarchy in all forms.