For those who wanted more of the artful meditation on societal misogyny that David Fincher brought to his 2011 film version of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Swedish crime drama The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you have my condolences. The Girl in the Spider’s Web, directed with gun-to-the-head urgency by Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe), settles for being a tension-packed, go-go-go thriller that will pump adrenaline into your nervous system for nearly all of its suspenseful if implausible 117 minutes. Oscar nominee Rooney Mara is out as the Lisbeth Salander; we now get Claire Foy, giving her refined image as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown and wife to astronaut Neil Armstrong in First Man a kinky, kick-ass makeover as the tattooed, pierced, bisexual hacker and avenger on abusive, predatory men. Timely much?
Foy is killer good. Reactions may be mixed on the movie, which is based on the 2015 novel by David Lagercrantz (hired after Larsson’s death to continue the Millennium cash cow series). Alvarez and co-screenwriters Jay Basu and Steven Knight take big liberties with the backstory, which first saw screen life in 2009 as the start of a Swedish trilogy, directed by Niels Arden Oplev’s and starring a stellar Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. You’ll be pleased to know that the Uruguay-born Alvarez does not skimp on the juicy pulp. And, yes, the heroine still has her dragon tattoo.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web starts with a flashback in which the young Lisbeth escapes from the lair of her pervy father, a Russian crime lord, leaving her sister Camilla to dad’s deviant ways. Lisbeth really has it in for male creeps. Early on, we see her truss up a dude who has beaten his wife and assaulted two hookers. A Taser comes in handy, as does her skill in transferring the scumbag’s funds to these female victims.
It’s the reappearance of the now-grown Camilla (Blade Runner 2049‘s Sylvia Hoeks) as a svelte blonde dressed in red — and ready to do her own damage — that sparks the action. As head of a group of brutal mercenaries called the Spiders, her sister wants to get her hands on software capable of hacking into the world’s nuclear arsenals. It’s that same software that Lisbeth is hired to protect by Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), the inventor of the program. Suspicious of all power-mad governments, Balder holds the passwords in the head of his six-year-old son August (Christopher Convery), an on-the-spectrum kid who brings out Lisbeth’s protective instincts. No such sentiments bother Camilla, who kidnaps the boy. With Edwin Needham (a scene-stealing Lakeith Stanfield), a NSA security techie also on her tail, Lisbeth is cornered.
Except, of course she’s not. Showing athletic grace and a knack for always being a dozen steps ahead of her pursuers, Foy has a ball with the role while also supplying the nuance and grace notes that the too-busy script leaves out. As cinematographer Pedro Luque’s whooshing camera follows Lisbeth across a Swedish obstacle course of icy roads, motorcycle chases and exploding buildings, the “Girl” tries to escape the spider’s web. Will she? There’s little doubt. The Girl in the Spider’s Web knocks itself out by pushing too hard. It’s Foy who holds us in thrall by taking us deeper into who Lisbeth is than ever before.