In 2011, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo billed itself as the “feel bad” movie of the Christmas season. It was an apt description due to its bleak subject matter stemming from the series of Stieg Larsson bestsellers. However, the film itself left a very positive impression with its stylish direction from David Fincher and fine lead performances from Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig.
It’s taken some time for Hollywood to come up with their second iteration of the franchise (there were three Swedish entries a decade ago). This time around, the players from Tattoo are MIA and they wisely removed themselves. Fincher only executive produces. Mara’s Oscar nominated turn as Lisbeth Salander is now portrayed by Claire Foy. Craig’s journalist Mikael Blomkvist is now represented by Sverrir Gudnason. The harsh material and winter that accompanies it are still present.
Unlike the 2011 adaptation, The Girl in the Spider’s Web (based on David Lagercrantz’s book following Larsson’s death) is not an example of bad meaning good. Sadly it’s just plain bad most of the time. In ways that were only hinted at in Tattoo, Lisbeth’s backstory is explored in detail here. She’s a child of a nasty abusive father that she managed to escape from. Her mission of avenging women from lousy men is provided more context. Lisbeth has a sister that didn’t get to loosen herself from her father’s grip. And she grows up to be Sylvia Hoeks’s character, who inherits many of the sadistic patriarchal traits.
Web has a tangled plot involving a McGuffin that reveals the global nuclear codes (how familiar). Lisbeth is hired by a conflicted programmer (Stephen Merchant) to retrieve it. The programmer, in a lame plot twist, has a young son who is the only one capable of unlocking the device’s codes. The American government, led by a sullen NSA agent (LaKeith Stanfield), want it back. So does Lisbeth’s sibling and her bevy of thugs who go by “The Spiders”.
I haven’t mentioned Blomkvist yet. He’s in the picture for plenty of minutes. As played by Gudnason, he’s also totally forgettable. The romantic dynamic between that character and Lisbeth was the bloody heart of Tattoo. Here it’s basically ignored and inconsequential. Mara and Craig clicked in the predecessor. Blomkvist is a dull blank slate in this.
Fede Alvarez is behind the camera and he’s a talented filmmaker as proven by his Evil Dead remake and Don’t Breathe. He does his best to bring some visual flair and succeeds a few times. He’s no Fincher though. Many of the action sequences are routine. I don’t look for plausibility in stuff like this. Yet the sight of Lisbeth getting herself out of impossible scenarios over and over again based on her being a walking super computer grows tiresome.
Foy is a fine actress who tries her best to provide some emotional heft to the lead role. This pseudo-sequel doesn’t deserve her. Tattoo made its feel bad mark in highly satisfying fashion. Spider’s Web feels like a fake.
*1/2 (out of four)