2 stars (out of 4)
The name is Salander. Lizbeth Salander. In The Girl in the Spider’s Web, the millennium’s finest Swedish punk-rock hacker vigilante (Claire Foy) dodges bullets and stage-five explosions while chasing the bad guys in a manner that would please James Bond himself. Mind you, the agent would also throw a shaken martini in the director’s face and demand what the heck went wrong with this movie.
This latest incarnation — based on the novel by author Stieg Larsson’s successor, David Lagercrantz — is the weakest yet, hindered by stock action scenes and a convoluted politics-heavy plot that will intrigue exactly nobody. Neither will the titular dragon-tattooed titular character, an X-Factor in sharp-edged looks and attitude only. Though Foy (The Crown, First Man) stands out with the same spiky jet-black hair, black leather wardrobe and eff-you temperament as predecessors Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara, she is stripped of her hard-core feminism and sexuality.
What remains is the standard angry kick-butt heroine. In her spare time, Salander brazenly strings up a wealthy abuser that beats up women. But her livelihood revolves around infiltrating the web. Here goes: She receives a phone call from the newly fired employee of the National Security Agency (Stephen Merchant). He developed a computer program called FireFall, which accesses the world’s nuclear weapon codes. Worried the U.S. doesn’t deserve the power, he asks Salander to extract it from the SNA’s databanks. She proceeds.
Meanwhile, an NSA agent (Lakeith Stanfield, Sorry to Bother You) traces the illegal download to Stockholm and tries to nail down the offender. Complications ensue when Salander’s laptop is stolen during a raid at her loft. Surveillance footage shows that one of the thieves had a spider-web tattoo. Please welcome the Russian thugs! These pulpy adventures, set amid a dull noir Swedish backdrop, could have been lifted from any international espionage film. And watching a person furiously peck on a keyboard and gaze at a screen has never — and will never — raise anyone’s heart rate.
The supporting characters fade into the background. If you’ve seen the previous films and read the books, you’ll recall that a journalist named Mikhail Blomkvist is Salander’s de facto partner in crime. The character (Sverrir Gudnason) is on the fringe in this go-round; that’s for the best, as the Borg/McEnroe actor has ice-cold chemistry with Foy. Precious minutes are wasted on his female boss’ affair with her reporter. Another change is the sudden appearance of her long-lost evil sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks). She has silky-smooth blonde hair and dresses in red, naturally.
The most egregious offense of all the devolution of Salander herself. This is a young woman who has endured severe physical trauma. She was raped in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in a brutal scene that I will never watch again. An enigma on the surface, Salander finds solace by seeking justice against the powerful men standing her in her way. She exhibits none of these fascinations dimensions in The Girl in the Spider’s Web. It’s as if she lives independently of the #MeToo era. Perhaps 10 percent of the fault lies with Foy, a tenacious actress that never seems quite comfortable or credible as an enforcer.
What happened to this franchise? Back in 2011, there was fanfare galore when the great David Fincher directed his version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with Mara and James Bond actor Daniel Craig in starring roles. Mara slyly noted in interviews that she kept all her piercings intact so she could film the sequel. It never happened. Now we have The Girl in the Spider’s Web, a forgettable installment tangled up in its own mythology. Do better next time.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web opens in theaters on Friday, November 9
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