By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)

 

It has taken seven years for Hollywood to produce a follow-up to David Fincher’s disappointingly bland remake of the 2009 Swedish hit, but that time has not been used wisely, as The Girl in the Spider’s Web proves to be one of the silliest, dumbest thrillers of the year. Set three years after the events of the 2011 film, the story reintroduces us to expert computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy taking over the role from Rooney Mara), who continues to live a very private life, with few outsiders allowed inside her rigidly protected world. The reclusive figure does moonlight as an avenging angel, with an early sequence (which feels borrowed from The Equalizer 2) showing Lisbeth saving an abused woman from her rich, brutish partner. When former NSA employee Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) calls, wanting her to steal a program he created for the agency, one which would allow them to hack any nuclear missile system in the world, Lisbeth foolhardily says yes.

Actually obtaining the item isn’t an issue, with Lisbeth carrying out the mission quite easily, it’s the gallery of dark, mysterious characters trying to kill her afterwards to get their hands on the program, that turns out to be the real problem. Turning to journalist and former ally Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) for assistance, and inadvertently having to take care of Balder’s young son August (Christopher Convery), Lisbeth contends with her various opponents, one of which, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), is from her troubled past. Admittedly, I was never a fan of the original trilogy of films (I have not read the books), which felt like rather run-of-the mill Agatha Christie mysteries, only a little more graphic in nature, while the big budget American remake was empty and redundant. With another author, David Lagercrantz, now writing new scenarios on behalf of the late Stieg Larsson, it seems as if a decision was made to also totally reboot the character of Salander herself for the big screen (apparently this film barely resembles the novel it is supposedly based on).

Less an ingenious loner who knew how to use modern technology to her advantage, Salander 2.0 is now more of a kick-ass hero in the mould of James Bond, who always luckily has the perfect gadget for the perfect situation (and given the Studio who financed the picture, she is smart enough to use Sony product), and is able to crack a few skulls if required. Fans of the books (and the original films) will hardly recognise the character on display here, obviously changed for possible franchise success rather than anything to do with artistic merit. Contrivance and coincidence play a large part too in Salander being able to move forward, and some scenes will have you rolling your eyes, while other moments simply defy logic. Claire Foy, whose career has taken off since the success of the TV series The Crown, is a bundle of ticks and mannerisms, and her accent strangely morphs from Scandinavian to Eastern European as the movie plays out. Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049) plays it to the hilt as Camilla, while Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out, Atlanta TV series), as NSA agent Ed Needham, does what is asked of him.

Oddly, considering he was such a major character in the previous entries, Blomkvist is basically a peripheral figure this time around, and Gudnason’s dull performance doesn’t help. Three writers (including Steven Knight, who penned Eastern Promises and Locke) are unable to develop a story that is remotely interesting, the flashback sequence at the start involving Lisbeth’s cruel upbringing reminds one of the 2010 novel Evil and the Mask by Fuminori Nakamura, while the plot twists are ludicrously easy to spot. Fede Alvarez, who had two low-budget box-office hits with the Evil Dead remake and Don’t Breathe, gets his first chance at the big time, and certainly tries to unload plenty of flashy visuals and highly charged action set-pieces on the audience. But while some of the pretty cinematography impresses (thanks to cinematographer Pedro Luque, who brilliantly lensed the 2010 one-take horror film The Silent House), Alvarez frequently loses focus on the story being told, and whole sections seem to go by where the plot is pushed aside in favour of artfully designed and framed images.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a failure in so many ways; it doesn’t build a compelling story which audiences can enjoy as a stand-alone thriller, while fans of the novels will feel betrayed by what Hollywood has done to their beloved Lisbeth Salander, remoulding her into a generic action hero rather than sticking to the more intriguing person Stieg Larsson originally created.

Rating: 1/5

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