The Girl In The Spider’s Web (***1/2) Returns to the scene

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The Girl in the Spider’s Web – 2018

Director Fede Álvarez
Screenplay Jay Basu, Fede Álvarez, Steven Knight based on the novel by David Lagercrantz based on characters by Stieg Larsson
Starring Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, LaKeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is an attempt to revive a series that is based upon a series of books that were written by a man deceased by the time they became a worldwide sensation. I have no real strong opinions about Sony’s attempt to rejigger something out of David Fincher’s abandoning of the series after one shot. It is curious that they bypassed remaking the other two of the original Millenium Trilogy for this one written by the new guy, David Lagencrantz. One might assume this is because Lagencrantz not only has another book completed, but he is alive to presumably keep going.

The result they seem to be aiming for is a modern-day James Bond, where the agent is a girl who provides retribution for battered girls when she’s not taking hacking side jobs for hire.

Those who have seen the commercial know this is how …Spider’s Web begins. Lisbeth Salander (Foy) is pulled into helping out a computer scientist (Merchant) who has created a MacGuffin program that he needs her to steal. He has a young son with him constantly. It should be obvious the son will be necessary to the MacGuffin later.

Stealing the program is no challenge. Staying alive minutes after appears to be more problematic when members of a group called Spider Society break in. They steal the program and leave Salander for dead.

From here, the government of Sweden, the NSA and Salander’s old journalist friend Blomkvist (Gudnason) arrive to the story. Each has a role to play which I will not get into because I don’t want to ruin what little amount of mystery this story provides outside of the overlong trailers have already given.

Most will realise that Lisbeth has a sister (Hoeks) who succeeds their truly deplorable crime syndicate leading father after years of abuse. For some reason we’re told that she followed her father in death, but almost immediately learn otherwise.

One of the true challenges in liking a film with good performances like Foy, Gudnason and Stanfield (who plays NSA Agent Needham) is when the mysteries presented are barely skin deep. If you don’t know what happens next in the chess match, wait a few minutes and the whole board opens up so one can’t miss it if they tried.

The film is good, though, even if one never gets the sense that the good side has run out of angels over their shoulder. Striking visuals that should be haunting feel more like artistic set pieces when one knows nothing could ever get the girl after which the series is named.

Foy is an excellent Lisbeth. She’s the second best choice for the role so far, after Rapace’s groundbreaking work opposite the incredible Michael Nyqvist. Her chemistry with Gudnason’s Blomkvist is played intricately, even if it feels as though the journalist has been given a lot less to do with the plot.

Hoeks is stunning as Camilla. She comes across as beautiful, dangerous and twisted to hell and back. She learned to love the thing that Lisbeth has spent her life fighting against. She became queen by surrendering her king.

The combination of the hacker and the journalist is an intricate one, both literally and cinematically. Having a man play the role of a physically passive damsel in distress to an unimposing yet dangerously effective woman is one of those things not often seen in American films. At first is was disquieting, but after even the original first story, it is hard for the viewer to imagine otherwise.

This is the gift of originality that Larsson gave us. It’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing carry on, if only with a little more intrigue henceforth.

Ultimately the place this film stumbles is with plot. We have no fear that what needs to happen will happen, no matter how cool it is to see. There are definitely some nice visual moments in the last act when Salander’s team takes on the Spider Society.

It wouldn’t hurt if they cut down the number of scenes where someone returns to the scene of a crime to find it maybe being watched by someone. This way, maybe they can preserve evidence. Or more crime.

Overall, the film is a winner, but barely. The lack of subtlety hurts when one can easily determine when they can step out to take a leak because they know the moments and plot points instinctively. If they can find a way to keep it all a mystery, that’d be a real treat.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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