In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–the first English-language adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel series–director David Fincher and über-writer Steven Zallian built a thriller that smoldered with carefully-contained heat. The Girl in the Spider’s Web, a soft reboot with a different cast and crew, burns brighter and higher but goes out much sooner. It somehow has more action but less excitement and less plot but more slow stretches than its predecessor. Claire Foy is a great actress–if you haven’t seen The Crown, it’s worth a Netflix bill by itself–and she does a lot to make this movie watchable, but fans of the first film may walk away disappointed with how far Spider’s Web veers off the road.
Foy takes over for Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, the hacker hard-ass who avenges maimed and murdered women. Lisbeth is roped into international intrigue when a fugitive scientist asks her to steal a high-tech McGuffin from the NSA. It’s not long before the spies of the world are on her ass, and she’s forced to enlist old flame Mikael Blomkvist (Sverir Gudnason, inheriting the hunky reporter role from Daniel Craig) for help. The wheels and gears of the plot crank furiously, and things only get goofier as the movie progresses.
In Dragon Tattoo, Salander was an edgy introvert who only came alive long enough to pour molten vigilante justice on grimy killers and rapists. This film reimagines her with reflexes and agility that approach Jason Bourne levels–she’s a punk superhero with supernatural hacker skills, infinite tech resources, who seemingly can’t be killed. The climactic action scene borrows heavily from Skyfall, a fact that only highlights how over-the-top this movie goes.
That said, there are a few things to enjoy. Once Mara passed on the lead, casting Foy in her place was a brilliant choice. Foy nails the clenched anger and honed intelligence of Lisbeth and makes every scene more compelling. And though they are hinged to an increasingly implausible plot, the action scenes are tightly edited and well-staged. Pedro Luque’s cinematography features striking pans of Stockholm, while composer Roque Banos delivers a beautiful, minor-key motif for the main character.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web makes a great example of the film you won’t pay to see in theaters, but may catch yourself watching on TV. Lisbeth Salander is a strong, fascinating protagonist who’s lucky enough to have had two incredible actresses play her. She–and they–deserve bolder and more original material than this. I suspect the last thing Lisbeth would want is to be stuck in anything conventional.