‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ abandons darker thrills for bland action movie tropes

November 22, 2018

When Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal approached director David Fincher to helm the 2011 remake of the Swedish thriller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” they pitched the idea of an adult-oriented franchise film that could function as comic book movies do for broader audiences, but with a more sophisticated sensibility. Unfortunately, while competently made, that remake underperformed at the box office and the bold vision by the producers was never fully realized. Seven years later, Rudin and Pascal return to this goal with a conceptual sequel called “The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story,” a leaner, friendlier version of novelist Stieg Larsson’s world that has more in common with espionage thrillers like “Bourne Identity” and James Bond movies than it does the darker 2011 predecessor.

The titular “girl” — bisexual hacker goth Lisbeth Salander, previously played by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish version and Rooney Mara in Fincher’s American remake — is now played by Claire Foy. In this adventure, she must protect and retrieve a laptop that contains hack that was developed to control the launch of nuclear missiles from every world government. After a shadow terrorist organization kills the creator of this dangerous software, Salander must protect the computer scientist’s child who happens to have memorized the passwords that will unlock this potentially devastating hack.

Foy’s portrayal as Lisbeth is noticeably more vulnerable and feminine than the other interpretation. She shows more emotional range in her facial expressions, and her fighting style seems more full-bodied, but the pedestrian script surrounding this performance doesn’t do Foy or the other actors any favors. Lakeith Stanfield of “Sorry to Bother You” fame lightens up the screen with an enthusiastic performance as an NSA agent who gets caught up in the mystery, but the plodding structure of this narrative suppresses any organic character revelations that would actualize even the liveliest of portrayals.

Director Fede Alvarez (“Don’t Breathe”) maintains the steely look and cold tone of Fincher’s template, and when it comes to car chases and fight sequences, the movie functions according to standard action movie expectations. Meanwhile, the story-centric connecting tissue — such as the revelations of Salandar’s abusive father and the twin sister she abandoned as a child — is skimmed over in favor of kinetic set-pieces and tired spy movie tropes.

As a Saturday afternoon, cable-television time killer or a movie you’ll eventually watch half of while trying to ease your nerves on a flight, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is consumable and easy to digest. As an attempt to inspire dramatic tension or an emotional connection with the audience the film falls significantly short of its literary or cinematic origins.

Grade: C-

Cassidy Robinson is a former Idaho State University student with a master’s degree in film studies from Orange County’s Chapman University. He freelances for both print and online outlets.

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