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In Theaters: THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB (2018)

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THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB
(US/Germany - 2018)

Directed by Fede Alvarez. Written by Jay Basu, Fede Alvarez and Steven Knight. Cast: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps, Claes Bang, Cameron Britton, Synnove Macody Lund, Mikael Persbrandt, Christopher Convery, Andreja Pejic, Hendrik Heutmann, Volker Bruch. (R, 115 mins)

It's been seven years since David Fincher's big-budget American version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, based on the first novel in Stieg Larsson's "Millennium Trilogy." It was generally faithful to the book, with Rooney Mara's Oscar-nominated interpretation of researcher/hacker/badass Lisbeth Salander more than holding its own against Noomi Rapace's career-making portrayal in a trilogy of Swedish adaptations. Larsson was only 50 when died of a heart attack in 2004, a year before the first of his three completed books in the series hit European bookstores en route to becoming a phenomenally popular bestseller in the US in 2008. Swedish writer David Lagercrantz was commissioned to continue the "Millennium" series, resurrecting Salander with 2015's The Girl in the Spider's Web and 2017's The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. Opting to nix the second and third books in Larsson's trilogy and start fresh with a sequel to/reboot to the 2011 film, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB doesn't bring back any of DRAGON TATTOO's participants other than producer credits for Fincher and Scott Rudin. Mara has been replaced by a game Claire Foy, but she's fighting a losing battle. Director/co-writer Fede Alvarez, best known for his work in the horror genre with the EVIL DEAD remake and the overrated DON'T BREATHE, completely drops the ball on re-establishing Salander as a heroic figure for the #MeToo era. The film jettisons almost everything that made her such a fascinating and iconic heroine in the past and instead drops her in the middle of what looks like a mash-up of SPECTRE, Jason Bourne, and a FAST & FURIOUS sequel. DON'T BREATHE was an excellent thriller to a very specific point where Alvarez jumped the shark: THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB's turkey baster moment comes rather early, when Salander leads some cops on a motorcycle chase and eludes them by driving off a dock and speeding across a frozen lake. It's only the first of several instances where you can hum the 007 "da-da-DA-DAAA!" cue and it wouldn't be at all out of place.





Opening with a flashback to Salander's childhood that doesn't really gel with her background in Larsson's books or in any of the movies, we're introduced to her sister Camilla, the favorite of their pedophile father (Mikael Persbrandt). Though Salander would grow up to be a righter of wrongs against women, she left her sister behind, escaping their abusive father by taking an improbably steep dive down a snowy hill off a balcony and never looking back. Cut to the present day as Salander--apparently known throughout Sweden as a hacker, vigilante, and media figure and somehow constantly out in public and living in what looks like a huge warehouse in a busy part of the city with its own closed-circuit security system and panic room--is hired for a job by Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), who worked for the US government and designed a software program that would allow the US military to access and override the world's nuclear launch codes. Feeling he's created a monster with the serious potential for global destruction, Balder wants Salander to hack into the NSA's system in D.C. and steal it back so he can permanently delete its existence. This catches the attention of NSA analyst and former military and black-ops mercenary Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), who immediately flies to Stockholm with the intent of retrieving the program and eliminating Salander. With Swedish intelligence head Gabriella Grane (Synnove Macody Lund) putting Balder and his genius/autistic son August (Christopher Convery) in the least safe safe house imaginable, with a wide-open window you can see in from a great distance, it's only a matter of time before their lives are in danger. Of course, the danger arrives in the form of The Spiders, a collective of Russian bad guys in the employ of--who else?--Camilla Salander (Sylvia Hoeks), who took over their father's criminal empire and wants the launch codes as a global power play and, I presume, to get her sister's attention?


Does that even sound like something Stieg Larsson would've concocted? Foy could've made this role her own but not with that material she's been given, turning Salander into a rote, generic action hero. If this is indeed the start of a new action-driven franchise, then it already looks about two films away from putting Salander in space. Lisbeth Salander is an abuse survivor, troubled loner, and genius with incredible researching and computer skills. Why is she in car chases? Why is she in intricately-staged shootouts? Why is she dodging explosions? Why is her sister an albino-looking, Blofeld-like supervillain with a ridiculous wardrobe that makes her resemble the long-lost sister of Edgar and Johnny Winter? Why is Mikael Blomkvist (played here by BORG VS. MCENROE's Sverrir Gudnason) given virtually nothing to do? And why do Salander and Blomkvist seem to be the same age now? Wasn't his being quite a bit older a key component of their complicated relationship? Speaking of nothing to do, why is Vicky Krieps, who was so good opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in PHANTOM THREAD, squandered in a superfluous supporting role as Blomkvist's editor and sometime lover Erika Berger (played by Robin Wright in the 2011 film)? Salander's shut-in hacker pal Plague also returns in the form of MINDHUNTER co-star Cameron Britton, who more or less serves as a de facto Q to Salander's 007.


Only Stanfield (GET OUT, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU) manages to stand out, mainly because most of his scenes show him intensely glowering and walking through crowded places with steely purpose, almost as if he's trying to find the nearest way out of this movie. His character's shifting alliance seems more like plot convenience, and the long sequence where Salander assists him in escaping police custody in a Stockholm airport is thoroughly absurd (how can she coordinate that many things with such perfect precision timing?). THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB is filled with preposterous contrivances, eye-rolling coincidences, and lazy storytelling, glossing over plot details in a muddled fashion and leaving a capable cast stranded. Alvarez is obviously no Fincher, but while the film looks nice and has a couple of striking shots (one standout being Salander and Blomkvist facing each other from glass elevators in adjacent buildings), everything about it is a perfunctory clock-punch that feels like a Netflix Original that was accidentally released in theaters.




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