The Girl in the Spider’s Web works as a skilled action thriller, propelled by its Bond-like heroine. It has threat of the apocalypse, incessant life-threatening situations, bloodbath, and a girl on a bike.
But is that what constitutes the appeal of Lisbeth Salander?
Stieg Larsson’s heroine was a standout because she refused to give in to the stereotypes of gender, opting for a fluid existence. Her ability to kick butt was exciting, so was her expertise in hacking, but what made her leap out of Swedish imagination to become the darling of the world was her ability to stay on the tricky rope between two ends of the spectrum.
And this is where Fede Álvarez’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web fails so miserably. This movie has taken an original character, drained out all the things that made her so distinctive, and has turned her into one of those deadly dames that you find in Hollywood dime a dozen every year.
After Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara, Claire Foy has stepped into the shoes of the goth heroine, and she can only do this much when the material she is operating out of is drowning in cinematic blandness. From playing Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s The Crown to screaming at a bunch of boys in First Man, Foy’s dramatic range is never in question, but here she is made to act as if she has never heard of words such as nuance and subtlety.
The culpability can perhaps rest on the script penned by Jay Basu, Steven Knight, and Álvarez, which derives its sterile gift from David Lagercrantz’s books that continued the story of Lisbeth Salander after Larsson’s unfortunate demise. The film takes the story on a global scale, by putting in a nuclear threat like every American blockbuster aspirant. Lisbeth hacks into an American security system, which starts a chain of events involving Americans, Swedish police, Russian mafia, and a kid’s early initiation into lessons about death.
David Fincher’s take on the material, like the original trilogy, explored how Lisbeth’s story is intricately woven around her history of trauma. Álvarez does begin his film with Lisbeth’s past, and how it comes back to haunt her, but it feels like an afterthought, thus lending the whole track a cosmetic feel. The surface level bleakness also treats Mikael Blomkvist (played by Sverrir Gudnason) as dispensable.
To Álvarez’s credit, he lends the film into a territory of Scandinavian noir, basking in the afterlight of snow. There are also finely executed chases, fistfights, and a climax that understands the beats of a good actioner.
But his reading of the material and his depiction of it are a terrible mismatch. Hollywood has always appropriated cultures it fails to understand, soothing anything that might discomfit the Pan-American palette.
Here, the wings of a girl have been clipped before she could turn into a dragon and breathe fire.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)
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