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New Release Review - THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB movie review
Hacker heroine Lisbeth Salander returns.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Fede Alvarez

Starring: Claire Foy, Sylvia Hoeks, Lakeith Stanfield, Sverrir Gudnason, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps, Claes Bang

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB movie poster


With a hacker heroine who spends most of her time gazing at computer screens, Swedish author Stieg Larsson's 'Millenium' trilogy of novels flew off bookshelves upon release, but they didn't boast the sort of drama that translates well to a screen adaptation. Nevertheless, all three novels received movie adaptations in Larsson's native land, making a breakout international star of Noomi Rapace, for a brief moment at least, and a 2011 big budget English language version of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher and plunging Rooney Mara into stardom (unlike Rapace, Mara has managed to stay in the limelight).

Fincher's film received positive reviews and performed well enough at the box office, but plans to adapt the remaining novels were put on ice. Now, with Don't Breathe director Fede Alvarez at the helm and rising star Claire Foy going under the tattooist's needle to portray Lisbeth Salander, we get an adaptation of The Girl in the Spider's Web, a novel penned by David Lagercrantz in the wake of Larsson's passing.

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB movie review

Alvarez wisely gets his protagonist away from computer screens and out onto the streets of Stockholm and the snowy expanses of rural Sweden, reinventing Salander as a sort of female combination of Jason Bourne, James Bond and Batman (she even gets a Batmobile at one point). Where the original trilogy focussed largely on Salander's role as a righter of wrongs committed by men against women, Alvarez relegates this aspect to an early scene in which Salander, appearing in front of an angel wings sculpture (an early sign that we're not in for a subtle narrative here), hog-ties an abusive businessman and sets his long suffering wife free.

Following a very Bond-esque credits sequence, the main plot kicks in, and it's up to Salander to save the world from the threat of atomic annihilation as she chases down a set of nuclear Macguffin codes. Also after the codes are a mysterious Russian crime syndicate, an American NSA agent (Lakeith Stanfield) and the Swedish Secret Service.

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB movie review

It's a relatively paper thin plot, but Alvarez and his co-writers Jay Basu and Steven Knight make it all seem a lot more complicated than it really is. Like many 007 adventures, you find yourself giving up on the plot at a certain point, sinking back in your seat and resigning yourself to soaking up some good action scenes. And the action here is undeniably impressive. With Don't Breathe, Alvarez proved himself a skilled expert at mapping out set-pieces in a thrilling yet visually comprehensible manner. The standouts here are an airport sequence that would be at home in any Bourne movie, and a climactic shootout in which a hacker and a sniper team up to take out the baddies in a very precise, scientific fashion.

If Alvarez is auditioning for a future Bond or Bourne instalment, Foy's badass performance puts her to the head of the queue for any potential female 007. A far cry from her signature role of a young Queen Elizabeth on Netflix's The Crown, Foy convinces you that she can kick any man's ass here, but refreshingly she does so in a very feminine fashion, outwitting male opponents with brains rather brawn - the standard female action heroine move of snapping a villain's neck between her thighs is thankfully nowhere to be found.

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB movie review

While Foy is the most compelling of the three actresses to play this character to date, elsewhere the film suffers from some egregious miscasting. Stephen Merchant, the man with the thickest British bumpkin accent imaginable, is cast as a Swedish scientist who appears to have spent his childhood in Bristol. Danish actor Claes Bang, so hilarious in Ruben Ostlund's The Square, plays a generic peroxide thug, but he possesses a face that's made purely for comedy. The character of journalist Mikael Blomkvist, previously played by Daniel Craig in Fincher's movie, returns here in the form of Sverrir Gudnason, but you could easily cut all his scenes out and the narrative wouldn't be remotely affected, as he's relegated to a male version of a damsel in distress.

There's enough here to suggest that Alvarez and Foy could take this character and series to some interesting places, but they'll need to find a story with more nuance than the tired old riff on every other Cold War era spy movie that they find themselves straddled with here.

The Girl in the Spider's Web is in UK/ROI cinemas November 21st.


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