Girl in the Spider's Web Claire FoyYear: 2018
Director(s): Fede Alvarez
Writer(s): Jay Basu, Fede Alvarez, Steven Knight
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Color, 117 mins

Synopsis: Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials. (Source)

Given the current battle against toxic behavior towards women, Lisbeth Salander’s return is a no-brainer. Originally a form of literary atonement for author Stieg Larsson, Lisbeth is an anti-hero built on ideas bigger than herself. She can also almost be seen as an adult superhero who draws from a broken past to fight back against the world around her. Any sequel or new chapter should have no problem finding a deep well of personal turmoil to explore. Unfortunately, The Girl in the Spider’s Web fails to capitalize on this. Director Fede Alvarez and his team of writers have reduced the character to her most marketable form. This latest outing has a great cast and is always thrilling in terms of sheer entertainment, but it also doesn’t have the substance to back up any of its slickly produced action.

Despite a much public and storied past already behind her, Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy), hacker-for-hire, now moonlights as a vigilante. During the day, she offers her technological slight of hand to the highest bidder. At night, she’s an avenging angel of sorts, freeing women from abusive men. Her latest paying gig finds her working for a mysterious man named Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), who has created something called FireFall. The program would give its user worldwide nuclear control, and now, Balder wants to destroy it before it can fall into the wrong hands. Since the program was stolen from him, he enlists Lisbeth to find it. Naturally, this draws Lisbeth into a much deeper web, one that will bring her face-to-face with a past that she’s always been trying to run from.

More than anything, this latest chapter feels like a reactionary sequel to what’s come before. Instead of the dark, atmospheric noir that upheld previous installments, Alvarez and co’s approach is full-throttle. The film barely stops or slows down to take a breath. It’s extremely fast paced, with Lisbeth using her techno skills to stave off a worldwide disaster while staying one step ahead of a shadowing criminal syndicate. Gone is the deep character work for a more muscular take that borrows heavily from Bond or Bourne. To that end, Alvarez has certainly created a beautiful looking film, staging action scenes with arthouse flair and dramatic visuals. And there’s never a dull moment at hand. Where the film fails, is that there’s also not much reason to care. There’s a family connection that only manifests itself toward the end, and at that point gives the film’s villain a flimsy motivation. It’s too little too late and sadly doesn’t add anything new to Lisbeth’s character. Ultimately, the film entertains, but the alarming lack of substance leaves us wanting more.

Girl in the Spider's Web review Sylvia HoeksCasting seems like the best part of the film, even though the script doesn’t do anyone favors. At the top, Foy gives us the beginnings of a great Lisbeth. She relates the internal aspects of the character without them having to be said, hinting at the pain underneath while upholding strength to those around her. She’s fierce for sure, able to add humane nuance despite Lisbeth mostly being a pawn in someone else’s game. It’s unfortunate that Blade Runner 2049 breakout Sylvia Hoeks doesn’t have much to do either, because when she finally shows up, she’s able to captivate the screen just as much as Foy. Deeper, Sverrir Gudnason, Claes Bang and Lakeith Stanfield are all there, but literally just going from one scene to another. After headlining deep, arthouse films of their own, the stellar backing cast doesn’t get a chance to flex.

While The Girl in the Spider’s Web avoids the chance to peel back the layers of a complex character, Claire Foy still elevates the material, bringing a cold, steely resolve to everything and a presence that hits hard. Even with a script that stays surface, Lisbeth and Foy command our attention with just enough, and the plot keeps things moving forward as long as we don’t question how silly it’s becoming. For such an iconic character, Lisbeth deserves more. Still, the film keeps us interested even if it doesn’t ever fully engage.

SG