David Fincher’s 2011 adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is among his best and most superbly crafted movies.
Like every Fincher film, it comes with his obsessive attention to detail, as well as the propulsive editing and Ross/Reznor score that mark his more recent work. It has two outstanding performers in Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig. It creates a credible, indecent world, and it doesn’t blink when it comes time for the ugliest parts of Stieg Larsson’s book.
It’s a serial killer murder mystery; it’s a clear-eyed examination of systemic misogyny in Western culture; it’s the best buddy-cop movie ever to be set in Sweden. It’s nearly three hours long, but it races right on by in the way that only the best and most engrossing movies can.
Fede Álvarez’s “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is ... not that.
The seven-years-later reboot of the Lisbeth Salander series is dull and anonymous, a half-baked and undercooked spy thriller with a plot lifted straight out of a James Bond movie. The danger is gone; the transgressiveness is gone. And they haven’t been replaced with anything especially interesting.
A terrific heroine has been neutered of nearly all the things that make her so fascinating. All that remains is a surly attitude and a black leather jacket.
It’s not that Claire Foy (“The Crown,” “First Man”) makes for a bad Lisbeth. In fact, she’s quite good. It’s just that 1. They give her little to do but be a scowling action hero who’s good with computers. And 2. Foy is simply a downgrade from Rooney Mara, the one true Lisbeth — though I’m sure some of you reading this are Noomi Rapace die-hards.
The film comes with a much bigger downgrade in the form of Sverrir Gudnason — the bland piece of Ikea furniture the filmmakers have used to replace Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist. This time out, the gumshoe journalist serves as Lisbeth’s hapless sidekick.
“Spider’s Web,” based on a book by David Lagercrantz, is set a few years after the last Lisbeth and Mikael adventure.
Lisbeth remains a for-hire hacker who moonlights as an avenger of abused women. In the opening scene, we see her trap and blackmail a wealthy businessman who was just acquitted after beating up a pair of prostitutes.
Maybe it’s the late-night vigilantism or all-black outfit, or maybe it’s the fact that she rides off on a motorcycle, but Ms. Salander sure does give off a Batman vibe this time ’round. And if that sounds awesome, I can assure you ... it is not.
The trouble begins when Lisbeth agrees to steal software from the NSA that’s capable of taking remote control of all the nukes that are online. She successfully steals it. Someone steals it from her. She sets out to steal it back.
The film’s plot is both complicated and stupid (just never stupid enough to be fun). There’s a lot of other stuff going on, much of it laughable. There’s an NSA security expert (Lakeith Stanfield) chasing Lisbeth. There’s an autistic genius boy who is the only one who knows how to decrypt the code of a doomsday device. There’s Lisbeth’s long-lost evil sister (Sylvia Hoeks), a cartoonish crime boss whose all-red getup and dastardly schemes would be right at home in an “X-Men” movie.
We’ve got car chases and shootouts and hand-to-hand fights with tasers and syringes filled with poison, and they’re often competently handled but not particularly exciting or surprising. The action sequences needed to be a whole heck of a lot better if they were going to carry a screenplay this boring.
(There is, admittedly, a decent scene in which Lisbeth hacks into the bad guys’ car in the middle of a car chase.)
“Spider’s Web” is a not-insubstantial step backward for Álvarez, who made the brutally effective “Evil Dead” reboot and the even better “Don’t Breathe.” It has faint traces of his compelling visual style here and there — Sweden still looks cold, gorgeous and sinister. But overall, Álvarez gets lost in the overly busy plot and the decidedly unintriguing intrigue.
We’re left with a movie that shoehorns a great character into a tiresome and poorly written potboiler about kidnapped children and nuclear launch codes. A movie that’s made the dark, perverse world that Larsson created palatable. A movie as safe, flavorless and predictable as the pilot of a CBS procedural.