The Girl in the Spider’s Web is in many respects a second-hand version of its original source material. It’s based on a book, the book was an unnecessary sequel to a completed trilogy, the book was written by a different author to said trilogy, it’s a soft-reboot/sequel to a film that was in itself a remake and with which it shares none of its cast or crew and of which it has less than half the budget. Taking all those factors into account it’s perhaps a surprise to no one that the film is somewhat of a mess. Not an irredeemable one, but more of a Curate’s Egg.
The story follows the eponymous Lisbeth Salander as she is hired to recover a MacGuffin, the nonsense details of which I won’t bore you with, bad spy stuff, that’s all you need to know, and in so doing she crosses a cabal of criminals who of course link to her abusive past.
Despite a few cool, if preposterous, set pieces and novelties too small to be worth mentioning individually, the story is painfully generic spy thriller fare, it even pairs Salander up with a maths genius kid. This is one of those bad movies where the plot hinges on people who are supposed to be genii doing incredibly dumb things and it gets really frustrating at times.
With the exception of Foy, who does a fine job in the lead, (she’s not as good as Mara but respectable) and perhaps Lakeith Stanfield as a bungling NSA agent on her tail, all the performances are terrible. The standout in this respect is Sylvia Hoeks who manages to top her dreadfully hammy turn in Blade Runner 2049. Imagine a Swedish version of Jared Leto’s Joker: an inconsistent, directionless mess of villain affectations, nonsensical motivations and truly awful wardrobe choices.
The worst part of the movie though is Mikael Blomkvist, here played by Sverrir Gudnason, who is completely pointless. He could so easily have been written out and the movie been focused solely on Salander. Gudnason was horribly miscast, at least 15 years too young looking for the role and he barely plays it at all, doing nothing more than reading his lines.
The film is the shortest of the Millennium movies and it feels like there are parts missing here and there with occasionally choppy editing in places as if the studio realised the film was going to be too long and slow to be marketable and probably not good enough to get an audience through word of mouth so they decided to trim the fat. This results in plot revelations appearing inexplicably and hits at deeper character development that is dropped like hot coals before the movie even has a chance to pick them up.
What all but saves the film though is its approach to dealing with sexual abuse. It’s a real shame that the film mostly uses this subject matter as a gateway into generic action material since when it actually becomes a Millennium movie it does it quite well. When we first meet Lisbeth in this, she’s a vigilante, rescuing women from their abusive relationships. It’s incredibly oversimplified and kind of exploitative, but I like what they’re going for. There actually is one good scene later on where Foy and Hoeks are on a cliff top talking about their shared experiences and resentments and we get an all too brief glimpse of what this movie could have been. It’s the kind of material we saw between Gamora and Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and I really appreciate that mainstream movies are at least trying with this stuff and films like Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Halloween show that we’re not far off from them doing it right.