Movie Review: ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’
Director: Fede Álvarez
Cast: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant
Plot: Talent hacker and vigilante Lisbeth Salander takes on a job for a former NSA programmer, dragging her and journalist Mikael Blomkvist in a conspiracy of spies and criminals.
Review: Here’s the rub – I started reading David Lagercrantz’s novel The Girl in the Spider’s Web a week ago and then received the the invitation for the film. Not wanting to get the two versions muddled I smashed out the book prior to the screening. The downside is that it’s difficult to take a fresh look at the film without thinking about it from an adaptation standpoint. In that regard…some decisions were made.
Most notably the book is a tangled web of conspiracy, corruption and manipulation. We’ve got organised groups of Black Hat hackers, the NSA, a gang of criminals called the ‘Spider Society’, multiple Russian and Swedish government agencies all of whom are looking to take advantage of emerging AI technology…the movie is less tangled web and more a straight line. Frans Balder (Merchant) is a terminated National Security Agency employee who built an app that allows one person full access the global nuclear arsenal from a laptop. He recruits Lisbeth (Foy) to steal the app back from the NSA, after which they come under attack by a criminal organisation who abducts Balder’s autistic son, who happens to be the only person who can put the password into the app. Also Lisbeth’s evil sister is behind it all.
Obvious the highly complicated conspiracy ridden 500 odd page novel is going to need some trimming to fit a movie run time. They’ve cut about two thirds of the characters and huge swathes of story (mostly Lisbeth sitting on her computer, not a particularly thrilling visual) and replaced them with explosions and car chases. In an effort to link up the now disparate plot points they’ve made things illogical, like why the NSA would create a nuclear launching app and why someone would make a password system only his son could use. The film does substitute much of this with some pretty fun action and Jason Bourne style sequences that make clever (if nonsense) use of Lisbeth’s talents as a hacker.
But in streamlining the film for a Hollywood audience they’ve robbed the story of its distinct identity. David Fincher managed to capture the essence of the book with his adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but if you took Lisbeth out of this film it’ll look like a dozen other movies from the past five years. Lisbeth is as fascinating a character as ever, with Claire Foy joining Rooney Mara and Noomi Rapace as performers who have done a brilliant job with this role.
It’s Lisbeth’s sister Camilla who winds up getting the short stick in this outing. Played by Sylvia Hoeks, Camilla is essentially a Bond villain in this story and her background is one of parental abuse. This is a far cry and much less interesting than the Evil Twin of the novel (as silly as that concept is), a chilling foe who is the polar opposite of Lisbeth. Whilst not as smart or talented, book Camilla is a immensely charming and attractive. She uses this manipulate people into doing her bidding, weaponising her magnetic appeal against Lisbeth. In the movie she’s cross with Lisbeth because their father abused her. They do tie this into Lisbeth’s mission to hurt men who hurt women, but it’s tenuous.
The most confusing part of the film is the role of Erika Berger (Vicky Krieps). Blomkvist’s boss and partner at the magazine he writes for, she’s also his sometimes lover, an arrangement her husband has accepted. She has worked hard throughout her life to attain her status and wealth and fights tooth and nail to protect her business and its integrity. She’s not a character I’d expect to be played by someone young than me. Krieps is fine in the role but it’s distracting that she’s a full 17 years younger than Robin Wright, her played her in the film that took place several years prior to this one. It’s weird.
Distancing this movie from the book, it’s a competent action thriller that you really, really shouldn’t think about. It’s more akin to a Bourne movie than the Millennium book series.
Rating: FIVE out of TEN