Lisbeth Salander can handle a lot. She’s been to hell and back, and attacks without prejudice. But now, the ever-mutating righter of wrongs, currently wearing a Claire Foy skin mask, is up against something that may well crush her: a franchise.
The Girl In The Spider’s Web is very much the further adventures of Lisbeth Salander, adapted from the 2015 book written by David Lagercrantz following original author Stieg Larsson’s death. The previous cinematic takes on her misadventures — the original Swedish trilogy, a classical crime thriller starring Noomi Rapace, and 2011’s sublimely cold David Fincher piece, starring Rooney Mara — were completely different interpretations with distinctive character. Fede Álvarez, who lent horrific atmospherics to the 2013 Evil Dead remake and directed 2016’s claustrophobic Don’t Breathe has again left-turned. Yet so much of what unfolds is nothing new. Criminally, at Lisbeth’s expense, it’s played safe.
From the start of the prologue, which introduces us to the young Lisbeth, her sister and their abusive father, you feel the myth-building, and with the very Bond titles that pipe up, everything screams epic. The subsequent adult Lisbeth scene follows suit, and as soon as we see a terrible man behaving terribly, you know exactly how it’s going to play out. Lisbeth sweeps in like a superhero — like Batman, to be precise — and we must cheer, presumably.
It mostly smacks of familiarity, a conventional action thriller.
That’s the main disappointment — everything feels a bit big, from the scope to the sweeping score to some gorgeous but overly iconic shots. A lot is lumped onto Lisbeth, and it feels like an awkward fit. Her world has not been sanitised: heavy stuff goes down, and Álvarez does indulge himself in some disconcerting body horror. There’s a great drug sequence involving some disturbing physical contortion from Foy, who is terrific throughout — her Lisbeth isn’t as frighteningly unpredictable or as primal as those before, but her performance is great regardless, shining with subtlety, a pressure cooker of repressed pain. Even if she is needlessly rude to fast food delivery guys.
But it mostly smacks of familiarity, a conventional action thriller. In that regard it’s a perfectly serviceable, tense, propulsive genre outing. But convention is the last thing Lisbeth Salander needs. Despite her vulnerabilities, she is definitely a sort of superhero now, even getting herself a Batmobile. Well, a black Lamborghini, but it might as well be. If this hits and breeds more, fine. It does its job. But something — certainly psychological nuance — has been lost. Lisbeth has always been a square peg in a round hole. Now more than ever.