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The Girl in the Spider's Web Movie Review

The Girl in the Spider's Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story (2018) movie poster The Girl in the Spider's Web

Theatrical Release: November 9, 2018 / Running Time: 117 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Fede Álvarez / Writers: David Lagercrantz (novel); Stieg Larsson (characters); Jay Basu, Fede Álvarez, Steven Knight (screenplay)

Cast: Claire Foy (Lisbeth Salander), Sverrir Gudnason (Mikael Blomkvist), Lakeith Stanfield (Ed Needham), Sylvia Hoeks (Camilla Salander), Stephen Merchant (Frans Balder), Claes Bang (Jan Holster), Christopher Convery (August Balder), Vicky Krieps (Erika Berger), Beau Gadsdon (Young Lisbeth Salander), Carlotta von Falkenhayn (Young Camilla Salander)


The series that launched with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was as close to a global phenomenon as any Swedish cinema. Adapted from the posthumous novels by Stieg Larsson, the thrillers wasted no time
finding an audience around the world. Three entries were all released in Sweden in 2009 and in the United States a year later, where the first one grossed $10 million from just 202 theaters. By Christmas 2011, star Noomi Rapace could be seen as leading lady to Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, while her breakout role was being assumed by Rooney Mara in an English language adaptation from no less than master filmmaker David Fincher.

Fincher's remake grossed $100 M domestic and $233 M worldwide, decent numbers but not great given the $90 M production budget. It won the Academy Award for Best Editing and was nominated for four others including Mara for Best Actress. There was hope, if not outright expectation, that the dark film would be succeeded, like its Swedish predecessor, by other adaptations of Larsson's novels. But Fincher hasn't made a sequel since his directorial debut a quarter-century ago and Mara never has.

Seven years later, hungry for franchises to keep up with the competition, Sony went ahead and made The Girl in the Spider's Web, a second English language entry, this one adapted from the Millennium series' fourth book, the first by David Lagercrantz published in 2015. Gone are Fincher, Mara, and leading man Daniel Craig. Taking their place are Uruguayan writer-director Fede Álvarez (Don't Breathe, 2013's Evil Dead), Emmy and Golden Globe-winning "The Crown" star Claire Foy, and a Swedish actor named Sverrir Gudnason.

Claire Foy takes over the role of Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl in the Spider's Web."

It was possible to regard the original Swedish film trilogy as pulpy thrillers, the kind that would never be submitted by their country for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. When Fincher boarded the American remake, though, the project instantly assumed the weight of first-tier cinema. Now, the spectre of that 2011 movie, a far cry from the Se7en, Zodiac, and Gone Girl director's best work, hangs over this one and demands comparison. Unfortunately for Álvarez and company, there isn't a measure by which this new take can be deemed an improvement on either Fincher's version or the Swedish originals.

Given the goofy subtitle A New Dragon Tattoo Story in marketing (but not on the film itself), this outing finds Stockholm-based hacker/loner/activist Lisbeth Salander (Foy) contacted by Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), a British tech guy who has deep regrets about a program he wrote streamlining the use of nuclear weapons. He asks Salander to destroy his work, which to do she has to hack the servers of the United States' National Security Agency (NSA). The digital theft draws the attention of NSA special agent Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield). It also draws interest from local forces who descend on Salander's home and wreak havoc.

While Needham flies to Sweden on a trip he claims is recreational to local authorities ready to arrest him, Lisbeth connects with Balder and his young son (Christopher Convery), who is critical to unlocking the potent program. At the same time, Lisbeth's journalist acquaintance Mikael Blomkvist (Gudnason) is both looking out for her and developing a potential story with her assistance.

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) has a chat with edgy hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy).

Spider's Web is a serviceable thriller, no more and no less than that. Álvarez doesn't seem to have the same passion that made his first two films at least briefly revered by genre fans,
but he has the technical know-how to craft something polished and moderately absorbing. Adopting that Swedish accent and the punk persona like Rapace and Mara before her, 2018 breakout star Foy is fine in the leading role, but it is a thankless one that will merely have her compared to two of her esteemed contemporaries.

The flair and color of Fincher's version are missed and Lagercrantz's narrative, adapted by Álvarez, relative novice Jay Basu, and veteran Brit Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things, Allied), is much less rich and engrossing than the one that Fincher had to play with (and Niels Arden Oplev before him). Things never get bad and Stanfield and Cameron Britton (playing Lisbeth's accomplice) provide a glimmer of fun in their limited screentime. But you never get the impression that this is a film that needed to be made and which needs to be seen on the big screen. It's a movie that's made for spontaneous Redbox excursions.

With a reported budget of $43 M, Spider's Web doesn't have commercial expectations as big as Fincher's 2011 movie, which is good because it is certain to gross far less than it. If Foy's previous R-rated vehicle, Steven Soderbergh's iPhone-shot Unsane released wide last March, is any indication, Sony should be bracing themselves for disappointment even at the lower price tag. And while Fincher's film drew accolades in spite of the genre, which has short-changed many of his best efforts in past awards races, this one will most likely get nominated for zero awards. At the time of year when good awards contenders are released virtually every week, Spider's Web makes no real argument for being worth two of your hours.

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Reviewed November 8, 2018.

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