Fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo may find themselves disappointed with the newest film in the “series,” The Girl in the Spider’s Web. It’s an adaptation of the fourth book in the Millennium series originated by the late Steig Larsson, that novel being the first not authored by him. The original book series and four film adaptations are known for brutal violence inflicted against women, but this film largely skirts this issue in exchange for a suggestion of that greater violence. In its original language, the title of The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo is Men Who Hate Women. Where in The Girl in the Spider’s Web is the woman who takes down those men?
For the uninitiated, Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) is an incredibly bright hacker who relies on tasers for fights and instinct for everything else. She’s heavily tattooed, pale, and wears all black with a punkish haircut. She’s especially protective of children because of her horrible childhood, which is actually worse than what we see in this movie, and that’s already pretty horrible.
We see Lisbeth’s life as a flashback of her abusive biological father and sister. She escaped that life, but as shown in the other parts of the series, her adulthood didn’t get much better. She harbors a resentment of both her father, a sadistic gang leader, and her sister, who she felt she had lost to her father’s influence. Like many victims of abuse, she resists affection from people she loves, and through Foy’s performance, it works; you don’t pity her. The start of the film seems promising because it shows her MO: to search various databases and police records to find and destroy abusers, who are usually male, before they can hurt anyone else. In one scene, she uses her hacking tools to break someone out of detainment by manipulating the doors to open and close at her command, and in another she drives her motorcycle across a frozen river. She’s supposed to be more than a rebel who doesn’t suffer fools. She’s more like a female John Wick: it’s not a good idea to mess with her. But here, she’snot in-your-face. She’s the one curled in the corner of the room on her Android phone, typing out a threat to release damning videos of you.
The new film does what it can with its slightly convoluted source material. Though there is a bombing, numerous fights, and a weaponized vacuum seal, it’s very tame in comparison to what we saw in David Fincher’s adaptation. It’s not a bad film, but its purpose is watered down to a standard action/crime flick with a slightly more interesting lead. It shouldn’t be.On the upside, this Lisbeth is self-sustaining; where one might expect her friend Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) to jump in, she asks him to just look into one or two things and watch someone for her. In that way, Foy drives this interpretation of Lisbeth closer to the books than the Fincher adaptation. It’s really about her actions, with her work front and center. It’s just that for all the attention to Foy’s acting agility, there is a ton of action movie padding that has to remind us that she’s a cool badass, and that she can’t just be in her head all the time. All that padding muffles the purpose.
To me, it’s like an action movie from the 90s. It has a plot too complicated for itself, involving stopping potential missile attacks by Bad Guys, but also has a vulnerable little boy who happens to be a math genius. I love those movies, but I don’t need action rolls or shaky cam to tell me that it’s supposed to be intense.
The film repeatedly reminds us that she has a giant dragon tattoo across her back, probably to remind us that this is supposed to be part of that series, even though it lacks the intensity and distinct characterization that makes it compelling. The audience for this series wants more of her, not more shoot ‘em ups. Maybe the issue with this movie is less the quality and more so that the movie could be any action movie, because it doesn’t require Lisbeth’s presence at all. It could be Swedish Batman. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s just not what you asked for.