The new Lisbeth Salander combines the coolest parts of James Bond and Batman.
GameSpot's own Chris E. Hayner said it best when he compared Lisbeth Salander, the hacker and “girl who hurts men who hurt women,” to Gotham’s Dark Knight. Long gone are the chilling and violent detective tales of the Swedish trilogy, or Fincher’s artsy take and eye for performances. The Girl in the Spider’s Web wants to reassure you it is “A New Dragon Tattoo Story,” as its subtitle suggests, and it does it by fully turning into a franchise-friendly superhero film starring the world’s greatest hacker.
The opening scene sets us up for a promising new version of this heroine, as Lisbeth Salander uses makeup as a face mask to hide her identity and proceeds to serve up some sweet yet brutal vigilante justice to an abusive CEO. It is easy to see why this was the scene most prominently featured in the marketing for the film, as it reminds audience of the character that they know, while showcasing the more Batman-like elements to be carried to the rest of the film--the black leather costume, heavy use of shadows, and the edgy and rain-soaked cinematography. Writer and director Fede Alvarez puts his horror roots to good use as he captures the rage inside Lisbeth and the utter terror in the eyes of her victim. Despite the R-rating, there is not a lot of gore or bloody violence, but Alvarez makes every scene pack a hefty punch, hinting at a darkness that surrounds the entire film even if we don’t always see it.
The film throws away the cultural insight of Sweden’s modern political struggle and the darker tone that comes from exploring themes of corruption, violence, and rape, in favor of Mission Impossible-like world-ending stakes and action movie antics. The Girl in the Spider’s Web skips the next two books in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, and instead adapts David Langercrantz’s follow up, made 11 years after Larsson’s death. This is a simpler, more accessible entry into the franchise.
We follow Lisbeth as she is hired by a former NSA employee to steal back a program he feels guilty about creating, which can access all of the world’s nuclear launch codes. She soon finds herself the target of NSA agent Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), the Swedish Intelligence Service, and a shadowy organization with matching spiderweb tattoos and personal ties to Lisbeth. This is by far the weakest part of the film, as it becomes just another action thriller with world-ending stakes and a mandatory quest to find the device that can access nuclear codes (seriously, how many more times do movies have to do this?). It also introduces a female villain who is never developed and kind of ruins the point of Lisbeth’s character.
Claire Foy does an impressive job in taking the best of Noomi Rapace’s vulnerability and Rooney Mara’s inner rage to make for a nuanced yet captivating Lisbeth. Probably the biggest difference between The Girl in the Spider’s Web and its predecessors is how it puts the eponymous Girl front and center. This, in turn, makes investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason)--who was the audience’s conduit in previous films--a more secondary character. This works for the most part, as Lisbeth was always the more interesting and intriguing character, and it’s about time we focus on her. However, her character is one that audiences are never supposed to fully connect with, since she keeps everyone at arm’s length, and Blomkvist now seems out of place in the movie.
Because Lisbeth is now the protagonist, the film is free to fully explore what it’s always hinted at--that the girl with the famous dragon tattoo is pretty much a female James Bond or Batman. The movie doesn’t even try to hide it, as she has the gadgets, the trauma-ridden past, the cool gadgets, an arch nemesis, and her own Batmobile. That the film also has a stylish opening credits sequence makes avoiding the comparisons next to impossible.
This leads to what is arguably the best part of The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Fede Alvarez captures a sense of urgency seen in the best Mission Impossible films, with enough adrenaline pumped into every scene to warrant having ambulances wait outside the theater. There are enough explosions, riding of bikes across a frozen lake, and a guy peeling half his face off to satisfy genre fans--not to mention the use of latex bondage gear as an inventive and gruesome torture device. Lisbeth may not be armed with an arsenal of weapons, but the film makes clever use of her hacking abilities to turn this into a live-action Watch Dogs. She out-thinks everyone in a split-second and is able to hack everything at the flick of a finger. And once Stanfield’s character comes in contact with her, they form a thrilling duo, with Stanfield being the armed gun and Salander as the voice in his ear, hacking and dispatching enemies before they even see them.
Did we really need to turn this franchise into another action-thriller, changing every character’s motivation and dynamic, instead of coming up with something new? Probably not, but The Girl in the Spider’s Web does great with what it has, turning the brooding Swedish vigilante into a force to be reckoned with, a female Batman living in a Skyfall-like world, complete with an origin story and an arch nemesis. Honestly, what’s the problem with that?
|The Good||The Bad|
|Hacking done right, and in service of the action||Clichéd end-of-world story complete with a quest for nuclear codes|
|Nuanced and captivating performance by Claire Foy||Blomkvist feels out of place in the film|
|Fast pace that never lets go|
|Promising start to a new female-led action franchise|
Disclosure: ViacomCBS is GameSpot's parent company