Review: The Girl in the Spider's Web
I’ve gone into great detail about director Fede Alvarez’s connection to David Fincher and how I think he was heavily influenced by Fincher in Don’t Breathe. This was all before the announcement that Alvarez would helm the reboot/sequel to Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The thought that Alvarez might jump into Fincher’s world to not only explore it, but expand on it and twist it into something his own was an exciting thought. Unfortunately, the new film doesn’t live up to that promise. Alvarez’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web is an anemic effort, one that pales in comparison to its predecessor, despite a committed lead performance from Claire Foy as the titular Girl, Lisbeth Salander.
If Fede Alvarez is a Brian De Palma type, who borrows and remixes other masters’ works to create something new, you can go back and see him excel at filtering Sam Raimi’s vision in Evil Dead and subsequently Fincher’s in Don’t Breathe. If there was a director and style Alvarez took from in making Spider’s Web, it would probably be Paul Greengrass and the spy genre by way of the Bourne films. The thing is, it’s far removed from any of the excitement seen in The Bourne Supremacy or The Bourne Ultimatum. It leans more into being the Jason Bourne entry in the franchise — it’s only the second entry in this loose franchise, but it feels like a weathered sequel in a series that has run its course.
For whatever reason, Spider’s Web is based on the fourth book in the Millenium series, skipping the second and third books that were adapted as films in Sweden in 2009, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. The author of the original series, Stieg Larsson, died in 2004 after completing the first three books; a new author picked up the series, continuing the story of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist in the Spider’s Web novel. This explains the sudden leap in logic in Spider’s Web — instead of hunting serial killers, Lisbeth is inexplicably tasked with preventing nuclear war. There’s a desperate aura of, “Okay, what do we do now?” It goes to show things should be left well enough alone; an unnecessary fourth book in a series makes way for an unnecessary second film in a franchise.
Hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth has a side gig as folk hero vigilante at the start of Spider’s Web. She then takes a job from an ex-NSA employee (Stephen Merchant) to steal back a program called Firewall that gives its user access to nuclear codes. One doublecross leads to another and she’s setup for murder and must take back Firewall, with the help of Mikael (Sverrir Gudnason), before it falls into the wrong hands. Lisbeth uses her tech skills to shut down cameras, open up security doors, and GPS-track down her enemies. Spider’s Web is in full espionage movie mode, complete with a rogue NSA agent (LaKeith Stanfield) on Lisbeth’s trail, a convoluted conspiracy plot, and scenes where our hero wears an earpiece, spews exposition, and walks through a crowded airport. You’ve seen it before, but you may not have seen it as inserted so absurdly into a film as The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
Claire Foy is the standout in the cast, a suitable Lisbeth Salander who does more physical work here than Lisbeth’s previous incarnations (played by Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara, respectively). She has hand-to-hand fights with some henchmen and, while it strays into the unbelievable, Foy holds her own. She makes us care for Lisbeth, whose past comes back to haunt her in the form of her long-thought-dead sister (Sylvia Hoeks). In the end, it’s unfair that her interpretation of Lisbeth is lost in the weeds of Spider’s Web, which ends up becoming a slog through most of its runtime.
Spider’s Web does nothing original, which might primarily be the fault of its script and the book on which it’s based. But Alvarez is to blame too; there’s nothing captivating in the film, nothing salacious, nothing that makes the film stand out from any other thriller of its ilk. It’s difficult to break away from Fincher’s original or the Swedish film series, and Alvarez doesn’t even make an attempt to rise above them. While Fincher dared to make a nearly three-hour, subversive, murder mystery epic, Alvarez settles for a 115-minute sleepwalk. As has been the case since it was all but settled that Fincher wouldn’t be returning to make a sequel, this Dragon Tattoo film series remains a missed opportunity.