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The Girl in the Spider's Web (Movie Review)

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Movie Review)
5 10

PLOT: Avenging angel Lisbeth Salander tackles her most deadly mission yet when she agrees to intercept a powerful computer program that has the power to destroy the world.

REVIEW: Fede Alvarez is both a solid and clever choice to helm THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB, a reboot of the English-language "Millennium" franchise that began with David Fincher's 2011 adaptation of Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. (There were three Swedish films based on the original trilogy starring Noomi Rapace.) Proving his chops with the EVIL DEAD remake and DON'T BREATHE, Alvarez has a knack for stylish set-pieces and he knows how to navigate a suspense sequence, and his talents are well suited for a story that seeks to merge creepy intimacy with high-stakes action scenes. The DRAGON TATTOO stories are like goth James Bond thrillers, international intrigue with a splash of psychological torment, and its heroine, the super-hacker Lisbeth Salander, is as badass as she is damaged. Alvarez is a good choice alright, but in SPIDER'S WEB he's working with material that is neither as complex or involving as it would ideally be.

Plot-wise, the movie has a MacGuffin-heavy storyline that's about as disposable as it is forgettable. Lisbeth is tasked with stealing a program created by a regretful computer wiz (Stephen Merchant) that can hack into the NSA, control nuclear weapons, the works. She has rivals in this pursuit: a determined NSA agent (Lakeith Stanfield, given not much to do) and a sinister woman (Sylvia Hoeks) who has ties to Lisbeth's past and an army of thugs at her disposal. (No awards given for guessing how Lisbeth and this woman are connected.) Lisbeth is shot at, has her apartment blown up, is drugged, beaten up, etc., but she's an unshakable force, as interested in protecting a small child as she is saving the world. She gets a little help from old friend Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), the journalist who once functioned as her part-time lover, but he's more of a throwaway character here, adding little to nothing at all to the proceedings.

On paper, the concept is something you might see in a Mission: Impossible film, and it feels somewhat out of place in the context of Lisbeth's overall story. But it's all subterfuge anyway, as the real reason this is happening is so Lisbeth can confront the mysterious woman who dogs her at every turn. Alvarez doesn't really attempt any mystery or intrigue involving this character; in fact, her motivations and actions appear to come straight from a plot-generator than anything organic. She's the kind of villain seemingly designed to achieve cult status, but she's too underdeveloped to make us care much about what she's doing. (She does look cool though.) Less time spent on the humdrum hacker stuff and more time developing the battle of wits and wills between the two women would have been much appreciated.

As for Lisbeth this time around, Alvarez and Foy have softened her edges, making her a more multiplex-friendly hero. She's still somewhat inscrutable - she really isn't a great conversationalist, and she can shut you up with one fierce glare - but she's been made more palatable (both internally and externally) than her prior two interpretations. Foy is a good actress (she's excellent in FIRST MAN), and she gives a frequently potent performance here, but her Lisbeth definitely leaves less of an impression than either Rapace or Mara's takes on the character. I think it's that Foy's eyes are too kind, they reveal too much emotion; Lisbeth does not seem as much of a conundrum as she did before, nor does she have the feral intensity that makes you wonder if she's playing with a full deck. Hence, the movie feels less dangerous than the Fincher and Niels Arden Oplev versions, even with Alvarez at the helm.

Alvarez crafts a handful of involving sequences, like the one where Lisbeth has to fend off masked intruders in her apartment, but the story is too bogged down in exposition and boring tech-nerd stuff to really allow us to engage. There isn't a whole lot of drama, save for the details of Lisbeth's tortured past, and though a lot goes on in the movie, I suspect most people won't really give a hoot about the outcome. (Not that you'll have any doubt Lisbeth will prevail.) When it's all over, you'll probably forget most of what happened minutes after you leave the theater, and though Foy comes off well enough, you're not likely to care whether you see Lisbeth again in the near future.

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