Movie review: Losing Larsson's Lisbeth in 'Girl in the Spider's Web'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Nov 28 2018 11:58 AM

A scene from 'The Girl in the Spider's Web.' Handout

The Millenium trilogy of crime novels was written by Steig Larrson, and posthumously published after his fatal heart attack in 2004 at age 50. The series started with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2005), followed by "The Girl Who Played with Fire" (2006) and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" (2009). Despite the dark and violent subject matter, all three books were critically acclaimed and best sellers. 

Larsson's three books were made into a series of three films in Swedish language, all released in 2008. This starred Noomi Rapace as the vindictive hacker Lisbeth Salander and Michael Nyqvist as her supportive journalist friend, Mikael Blomkvist. 

In 2011, an English-language film was made out of the first book, directed by David Fincher and starring Roonie Mara as Salander and Daniel Craig as Blomkvist. (I was not able to watch this American version, where Mara was nominated for Best Actress in the Oscars.)

Wishing to milk the series further, the Swedish publisher commissioned journalist David Lagercrantz to write more adventures for flawed heroine Lisbeth Salander. Lagercrantz's first book is "The Girl in the Spider's Web," published in 2015, which was used as the basis for this second English-language film of the franchise, directed by Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez. Lagercrantz has already published a second book entitled "The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye," published in 2017. 

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From the first movie, we knew that Lisbeth Salander was a victim of sexual abuse since her childhood. Here, her history was expanded to include a blond twin sister Camilla who decided to stay with their pedophile father while Lisbeth decided to run away. Because of her bitter past, Lisbeth became a vigilante against men who abused women. However, this time, it was her talent as a computer hacker that got her involved with a powerful software called Firefall that controlled all the nuclear codes in the world, and the shady Spider Society who wanted to get their hands on it.

Claire Foy looked too demure and refined to be credible as action-star Lisbeth, especially with those superhuman stunts she had to pull. However, she did better in the dramatic scenes with her estranged sister Camilla (played by Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks with a perfect ice-queen vibe). Strangely, the character of Mikael Blomkvist (played by Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason) was relegated from vital co-lead status to an unnecessary side character in this film. 

American child actor Christopher Convery made a good impression as the child genius August, son of Frans Balder (played by British actor Stephen Merchant), the programmer who came up with the Firefall software. A couple of European actors who earned critical acclaim last year, Vicky Krieps (Luxembourgish actress of "Phantom Thread") and Claes Bang (Danish actor of "The Square") were unfortunately stuck in minor roles. 

When the filmmakers of this reboot/sequel decided to shift the main focus from Lisbeth's beef against abusive misogynists to a commonly tackled story about computer software, the very spirit of vengeance and retribution that drove the Millennium series felt compromised. It became just another female vigilante crime-fighter action thriller, which on its own was not really that bad. 

But for loyal fans of the original books and films eagerly anticipating to see Lisbeth Salander back on the big screen again, it disappointingly did not pass muster.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."