The Girl in the Spider's Web
It’s a pity that The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story takes a fascinating character like Lisbeth Salander and turns her into a generic hacker action star. The character’s trauma and her survival defined her in the book series and previous movies, but are here turned into snippets of character development rather than incendiary force.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web starts with a little bit of Lisbeth’s (Claire Foy) backstory. While playing chess with her sister, their father beckons him to his bedroom. Through a series of small gestures and looks, we know that this is a very bad man, and this is not the first time the girls have been brought into this room for his wicked agenda. Lisbeth musters up the strength to run away, and tries to take her sister Camilla with her. Camilla refuses, and Lisbeth dives out of their bedroom balcony into the snowy abyss below.
When we flash forward to present day, Lisbeth has become a phantom. Well, she’s not dead, but her vigilante tendencies and hacker skills help her stay off the grid from the authorities while exacting revenge on men who abuse women. At least, that’s what we’re told through a radio broadcast that brings us up to date on her whereabouts.
We get to see one of these attacks, and it’s quite brilliant. Lisbeth moves in like a shadow, and is omniscient and omnipotent. She has total control over the situation and can anticipate this sorry excuse for a man’s every thought and reaction. What she’s able to do with computers, and the touch of a button, is nothing short of magic. But as the film goes on, she’s merely a gun for hire. She’s a good one who guides herself by ethics and not just her wallet, but we don’t see Lisbeth the guardian angel again.
This is disappointing because her moral code and thirst for punishment are what define Lisbeth as a character, which in turn sets the Dragon Tattoo series apart from other thriller and action films. The motivation in the rest of the story in The Girl in the Spider’s Web closely resembles The Fate of the Furious and Lisbeth is essentially just a female version of Ethan Hunt from Mission: Impossible. Just like those two action franchises, this film is a low-stakes popcorn watch, which denies us the opportunity to watch one of the greater literary heroines in action and on screen.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is based on the fourth book of the Millenium series by Stieg Larsson, though it was the first published posthumously and actually written by David Lagercrantz. You might remember 2011’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo starring Rooney Mara. I’m not entirely certain what the reason was behind leapfrogging over the next two novels (perhaps because they had already been adapted in Sweden), but it all adds up to feeling slightly lost during Spider’s Web. The structure of the film is aware of this disorientation, as it often plays catch-up with the various plot tidbits and character histories. We’re told a lot and shown a little.
It should be noted that Foy is not at all to blame for any of this shortsightedness. Her Lisbeth communicates through her eyes alone, and the actress does as much as she can with what she’s been given. Foy disappears into the physically demanding role and could have easily taken on some additional emotional depth.
Visually, the film’s art direction is well done. Lisbeth’s pale skin would make her disappear into the Stockholm winterscapes were it not for her Gothy all-black wardrobe. When a character arrives who wears nothing but red, the grayscale of the frame suddenly comes alive, as does the plot.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story is a nearly solid action film, but it’s underutilization of its main character stunts the film, and denies Lisbeth the opportunity to continue her life’s mission.