The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)
Directed by: Fede Álvarez
Written by: Jay Basu, Fede Alvarez and Steven Knight
Starring: Christopher Convery, Claire Foy, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Sverrir Gudnason and Sylvia Hoeks
When Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) is fired from the NSA, he recruits the aid of international hacker and woman of mystery Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) to steal his FireWall system, that has control of the worlds nuclear arsenal. However there are other major players interested, and Lisbeth has to confront the dark demons of her past before she can even begin to unravel the web of corruption and deceit that is all around her.
There’s a strange kind of atmosphere that permeates this film, and it’s obvious even from the opening credit sequence that there may be elements of fantasy and sci-fi seeping through the script. If you were to watch the credits sequence, without the written credits, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was a Bond film, and that’s a thread that continues into the entire screenplay. Foy is like a female Bond, some of the time, and has the cars, gadgets and villains, to back this similarity up. However, not content with playing Bond at his own game, director Fede Alvarez allows himself to dip his toes into the world of costumed super heroes, with scenarios and set pieces that would have been perfect for a Scarlet Johansen Black Widow movie.
When Foy shows up to sort out a wife beating corporate cheat in the first act, she is framed standing in front of a statue with bat like wings, that makes Foy look like a Batwoman in waiting. With her hoodie and leather, she could be mistaken for Oliver Queen, and the news cast describing various attacks by an unknown vigilante seems to signpost that this is something Alvarez was genuinely aiming for. Now, if like me you enjoy your superhero stuff, then you will forgive everything else that happens in the screenplay. Foy escapes death in her exploding hidden Bat Cave by hiding in the bath, and orchestrates the shut down of an airport through her mobile phone, just for starters. When the need arises to steal a car, they go straight for the Batmobile look alike. She even has her own Lois Lane, disgruntled journo Mikael Blomkvistm and an Alfred, Plague, who provides her with computer aided back up when required.
The villains of the piece are also equally comic book-y. The Spiders are the international terrorist organisation hot on the heels of our heroes, and the head of this mob is resplendent in a red costume that she is very attached to, as she always has it on, like a costume, get it? So the strengths for some audience members may be the very weakness for many others. If you are used to a more Winter Soldier type of spy thriller, then this will play well for you, but more stringent and real world fans may feel the melding of the real world and the fantasy, quite distracting. There are dark themes of abuse and violence on show, but the hi tech wizardry and action may not sit well together. In the 3rd act our heroine is even placed in her very own “death trap” by the villain. It might not be getting lowered into a pool of sharks, or trapped between two moving walls, but the aesthetic is basically the same.
As things crank up to a finale, you feel that all the beats of this film have come more from the super hero genre than anywhere else. As a result, it’s hard to be fully invested in what looks like a dark and violent thriller but feels like a Marvel Knights movie. However, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had here, if you let yourself go. The direction and production is great, the performances are adequate, with Foy stealing the show, and there are some very suspenseful scenes. Sometimes, the action set pieces look a little dark, and there’s a gas shrouded fight scene that could have been brilliant but the editing and lighting let it down.
Overall if you like dark action thrillers, you will probably enjoy this runaround, but it’s quite a distance from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and despite the action, the initial character feels molded into something that may be more lucrative for a franchise, rather than staying true to the novels that the premise comes from.