‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ sticks to safe action-movie cliches
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Where have you gone, Lisbeth Salander?
Why did they drop you into a movie that’s about 75 percent Bourne-Bond hybrid knockoff, 15 percent faithful to the badass and unique Stieg Larsson character, and 10 percent—
Well. Ten percent of the time I was rolling my eyes at the hit-you-with-a-hammer symbolism, from the early appearance of an actual spider crawling about to the recurring chess-game theme to the antics of a stylish and quite mad villain who wears all red (ooh, that’s the color of BLOOD) and struts about as if she’s a Swedish model working the runway at an edgy fashion show.
Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy of psychological crime thrillers (published posthumously) gave us a made-for-the-movies anti-heroine in Lisbeth Salander — the genius computer hacker/private investigator with a dark past, a pitch-black view of the world, a hostile attitude and her own code of street justice. Noomi Rapace turned in brilliant work as Lisbeth in the Swedish-language adaptations, and Rooney Mara was equally electric in David Fincher’s English-language version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” (The second and third English-language chapters got caught in a spider’s web of Hollywood inertia.)
Now comes “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” based on the fourth novel of the Millennium series (written by David Lagercrantz) and directed by Fede Alvarez, who gave us the creatively subversive horror gem “Don’t Breathe” (2016.)
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The stunning chameleon Claire Foy (“The Crown,” “First Man”) takes on the role of Lisbeth Salander and certainly looks the part, from the aggressively terrible haircut to the dragon tattoo (of course) to the icy expressions to the precise and blunt and efficient (and sometimes wickedly funny) manner in which Lisbeth comports herself, whether she’s telling a lover it’s time to get out so she can get back to work, or she’s stringing up — literally stringing up — a wealthy businessman who beats his wife and the prostitutes he frequents.
We do get some creatively creepy scenes, most notably an opening sequence flashback to Lisbeth’s nightmarish childhood. And “Spider’s Web” has a suitably chilly look, favoring grays and muted shades of blue and green, as if everything is being filtered through a shudder-inducing nightmare.
Alas, the scattered moments of inspiration are completely overshadowed by a tired and generic 21st century Cold War plot that has government agencies, mercenaries and Lisbeth all trying to gain exclusive possession of Firefall, a computer program that can access nuclear weapon codes around the world. Anyone with control of Firefall would need only a laptop to start launching missiles. Oh great.
The blandly handsome Sverrir Gudnason plays Mikael Blomkvist, the investigative journalist who once teamed up with Lisbeth, professionally and personally, but hasn’t seen her in two years after he betrayed her by writing an article ABOUT her. As written (and portrayed) here, Blomkvist is a well-intentioned fellow, but he’s so meek and borderline irrelevant to the proceedings, there are times when he might as well say, “Can I get anybody something to drink?”
Clichéd supporting characters abound. Ready?
• Lakeith Stanfield is NSA agent Edwin Needham, a computer savant and crack sharpshooter (talk about a handy combo of a skill set!), who WILL “go rogue” if necessary.
• Stephen Merchant is Frans Balder, the obligatory uber-nerd software engineer who created Firefall but now wishes he hadn’t and is in a constant state of quivering fear.
• Cameron Britton is Plague, Lisbeth’s slovenly and deeply loyal hacker associate, who’s also around to provide a little comic relief.
• Claes Bang is a sadistic assassin who apparently takes time out from shooting people in the head and perfecting a serum that will make one go blind to regularly apply some fantastically dramatic frosted blond streaks to his helmet-like hair.
We even get a Likable Misfit Kid character, a savant who can crack nearly unsolvable puzzles as if he’s starring in “Good Will Hunting: The Early Years.” When the boy calls himself a “freak,” Lisbeth’s sub-zero heart melts just a little, beIause of course she can relate. Awwwww.
At times “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” almost feels like a superhero movie, with Lisbeth as Bat Girl. Certain action sequences, while impressively choreographed, are heavily dependent on happenstance. Seemingly intelligent and sophisticated characters make some truly dumb decisions.
Shootouts and explosions and car chases. Snarling, arrogant villains who delight in taunting their captured opponents and opting for elaborate, needlessly complicated methods of torture and execution. A heroine who has “Die Hard”-level capacity to bounce back from myriad attacks that would kill almost any human being.
I know: That’s an awful lot of references to other movies and franchises for one review. But “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is that derivative, that disappointingly safe.
Lisbeth Salander deserves better.
‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’
Columbia Pictures and MGM present a film directed by Fede Alvarez and written by Alvarez, Jay Basu and Steven Knight, based on the novel by David Lagercrantz. Rated R (for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity). Running time: 117 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.