The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a generic franchise revival hamstrung by an uninspired story and poor character development.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web represents Sony’s second attempt to launch a film franchise based on the Millennium novels, after David Fincher’s 2011 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher’s movie, while well-received critically, did not perform up to the studio’s expectations at the box office. As such, a followup lingered in development hell for a number of years before Sony recruited Don’t Breathe’s Fede Alvarez to helm a soft reboot starring an all-new cast. Obviously, the hope here is for this iteration of Lisbeth Salander to headline multiple installments, but the fresh start isn’t all that exciting. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a generic franchise revival hamstrung by an uninspired story and poor character development.
Spider’s Web picks up as Lisbeth (Claire Foy) is tasked by terminated NSA employee Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to find his highly dangerous program, Firewall. It gives its user access to all of the world’s nuclear codes, and Balder is worried about that power falling into the wrong hands. Lisbeth downloads Firewall by hacking into the NSA’s servers and plans on giving it back to Balder, so he can destroy it.
The job seems easy at first, but Lisbeth’s actions quickly draw the attention of not only NSA security agent Edwin Neeham (Lakeith Stanfield), but also notorious criminal organization The Spiders, who want Firewall for their own devious purposes. As Neeham travels to Sweden to conduct an investigation into Lisbeth, Salander calls upon her old friend Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) to help her track down The Spiders and prevent a global catastrophe from occurring.
Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo wholly embraced the unsettling and disturbing nature of its source material, and Spider’s Web takes a slightly different approach. While the film has a fittingly dark tone and makes some truly upsetting revelations about the characters, it rarely goes deeper than surface level. In a way, it feels like Sony’s trying to water down the Millennium brand and make it more accessible to the mainstream by stripping away much of its hard edge. Spider’s Web plays less like a grim modern noir and more like a standard espionage thriller, with Salander coming across as a female James Bond or Jason Bourne. While it’s understandable the studio would want to mix things up after Dragon Tattoo underperformed, fans of the books (and the previous films) will likely be disappointed with the current direction.
The script, credited to the trio of Alvarez, Steven Knight, and Jay Basu, likewise doesn’t do the film any favors. Its main narrative is woefully by-the-numbers, revolving around the tired trope of a doomsday device and is hardly engaging. To be fair, there are a couple of fascinating ideas presented throughout (including the dynamic between Lisbeth and Sylvia Hoeks’ villainous Camilla), but they aren’t given enough development to be fully formed. Spider’s Web frustratingly prioritizes its basic genre elements over everything else, leading to some unearned payoffs that may have been more rewarding if certain aspects were given more time. There sadly isn’t much in Spider’s Web to differentiate it from similar titles.
Foy, coming off strong performances in Unsane and First Man earlier this year, is typically reliable as Lisbeth. Her interpretation may not be as captivating as other versions, but she nevertheless commits herself to the role, handling the emotional and physical sides of the character with skill. Foy’s turn is essentially the saving grace of the ensemble, as many of the supporting actors are wasted in thankless roles. Key figures like Blomkvist, Balder, and Neeham are basically walking plot devices to help move the story along, rather than three-dimensional individuals and don’t have much to do. Hoeks makes for an eerie presence as Camilla, but she’s ultimately a generic antagonist undercut by the shortcomings in the script. To her credit, Hoeks tries to make the most of what she has to work with (particularly towards the end), but by then it’s too little, too late. It should be noted that nobody in the cast is bad, though few will leave an impression on the audience.
In his short time directing features, Alvarez has demonstrated a keen eye for filmmaking, and that continues here. With an assist by cinematographer Pedro Luque, Spider’s Web’s visuals look great on the big screen and do an effective job of conveying Millennium’s trademark cold aesthetic. The style may be indebted to the previous versions, but Alvarez is able to honor them without being completely derivative. Coming in at just under two hours, Spider’s Web mercifully doesn’t overstay its welcome and is never dragged down by over-extended set pieces. More of an emotional investment in the characters’ arcs would have made the action sequences and story trajectory compelling, but everything as presented is sound from a technical perspective.
It remains to be seen if Sony has a new franchise on their hands, but in the event sequels are made, the creative team has some work to do to ensure any followups are of better quality. Unfortunately, The Girl in the Spider’s Web eschews much of what makes Millennium unique, diminishing a complex character like Lisbeth and the fascinating relationships she has with those around her. Unless one is a die-hard fan of the property or any of the principal players involved, there’s little incentive to rush out and see this one in theaters – especially with several other high-profile titles on the way for the holiday season.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 115 minutes and is rated R for violence, language, and some sexual content/nudity.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments!