Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web—Sugary Asphyxiation

15 November 2018

Hollywood’s lolly pythons have squeezed the thrill from the fourth thriller in the Millennium series, the Girl in the Spiders Web.  In-keeping with the tradition of ‘translating’ complex narratives into packet pancakes (sugar-coated, two-dimensional, easily franchised), the Girl in the Spider’s Web wastes a talented cast on tired tropes and a plot that ties itself in knots only to arrive at an obvious conclusion.

Lisbeth Salander, played by Claire Foy (The Crown) is a hacker who, having experienced a lifetime of abuse, avenges women abused by men. In previous renditions Salander was a narrative force; unyieldingly reclusive, brilliant, venomous, vulnerable and so, so awkward. A character like that deserves to transcend the original novels, but not like this.

Salander’s relationship to journalist Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) is tenuous and shadowy, leaving her to carry the emotional weight of the film. It makes sense for Salander to be less cryptic than usual—she can’t afford to not let you in. But she loses her edge. She is needlessly simplified, calm and collected, like every antihero ever slathered in maple syrup. And she is not angry—she is desperately guilty. The computer program threatening to detonate the earth is a mere side-plot to her inner conflict. By the time Salander’s demons materialise, blood-red in the snow, you still don’t know whether to fear or pity them.

Director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead) skirts away from those gritty, realistic abuses that stung viewers in previous films. Instead we are thrown into the sadistic theatre of Salander’s childhood, complete with sinister props, costumes and houses jutting from cliffs. Perhaps it is Alvarez’ background in horror-fantasy that has steered this film into the realm of evils too improbable to be truly unsettling. Perhaps escapism is just easier to sell. Either way, it feels staged. It feels far away. Salander’s action scenes do pull you back and to her credit, Foy is compelling. A glimpse of ruthlessness returns, but it isn’t enough.

The film isn’t bad, if you can get past what it is not: It is not an investigative thriller, a punk neo-noir, or a sensitive comment on gendered violence. It has borrowed something from all three, but much like Foy’s Salander, the clothes don’t quite fit. If you wanted a faithful adaptation of Lagercrantz’ novel or a logical continuation of the previous films, you might feel betrayed. But it is good at what it is: a visually striking, action-filled blockbuster held together by a persuasive lead actress and an enthusiastic battalion of violinists. Sometimes you just want to watch a badass heroine ride a badass motorcycle across a lake. If that’s you, check this one out.


The Girl in the Spiders Web in cinemas 8 November 2018

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