Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) goes full Bourne/Bond in The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Fans of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s massively popular Millennium book series, centered on this stoic and somber superhacker with a painful past getting herself into disturbing and dark crime stories, might be turned off by this re-imagining of the character, where she’s a badass superhero with borderline supernatural skills and a penchant for kicking mucho macho male ass. But for those, perhaps less anchored to the book series, who enjoy unironically self-serious yet subtly self-aware spy thrillers delivered with a side of cheese and a double helping of pulp, there is plenty that satisfies.
While the previous film adaptations—including Swedish versions of the original trilogy and an American take on the first novel—have a darker tone, more grounded and disturbing violence, and more patient pacing, director Fede Alvarez’s take on Salander seems to operate more from the premise of a Hot Topic angel of vengeance who uses the internet to destroy men who are abusive to women. That campy potential is fully explored in this bombastic and tight thriller. (And at the very least, in an industry where every franchise feels obligated to stay the course, Sony deserves some credit for trying something new with a well-established IP.)
Though with only two previous movies under his belt, Alvarez proves a good choice for steering this property into a pulpier direction—he’s shown a talent for pushing source material boundaries while also staying within its pre-determined lines. His surprisingly memorable Evil Dead remake followed the formula of its predecessors to a tee even as it added a bonkers amount of tension and gore; his home invasion thriller, Don’t Breathe, starts off with a predictable tone for the genre, then takes a delicious hard turn into sleazy exploitation.
With an aesthetic that is Nordic Noir meets ’90s De Palma, Alvarez drenches Salander’s techie/emo filter of Stockholm with an enhanced visual dynamic, full of dramatic potent color use and deep contrast. The plot? Typical “everyone goes after the McGuffin” spy action stuff. After the straight-out-of-Bond opening, complete with a pre-credits hook showing Salander on a mission not related to the main plot and the ensuing credits sequence that’s unmistakably Bond-ian, she’s tasked with retrieving a top secret program that allows governments to control all nuclear weapons around the world. The creator of the program (Stephen Merchant, continuing his unexpectedly solid dramatic performance streak after Logan) regrets his work and wants it destroyed. But before Salander can deliver it to him, of course a shadow network of criminals step in and go after it for its own nefarious purposes.
Now it’s up to Salander and her team of sidekicks, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (reduced to hunky young unmemorable white dude mode by Sverrir Gudnason) and her chubby hacker comedy relief buddy Plague (Cameron Britton) to retrieve the program and save the innocent.
Without giving too much away, there’s a deep personal connection between hero and villain that is ripe for melodrama that could tonally clash with the action-heavy pacing. But Alvarez pulls off this mix by embracing the dramatic sub-plot with operatic flourish that matches the over-the-top thriller elements. Salander’s hacking abilities are downright supernatural here—a tense escape from airport jail sequence shows her predicting every move everyone will make down to the inch as if she’s a precog from Minority Report. Nonetheless, it makes for some entertainingly sensational stuff.
The third actress to portray the character, Foy’s iteration of the character is heavy on badass stoicism, which fits with the The Girl in the Spider’s Web’s genre switch to an action/thriller template. There aren’t any surprises here as far as the narrative is concerned, but Alvarez, aided by a solid performance by Foy, again elevates what could otherwise be flat genre material into something that keeps the audience glued to the screen, even if they will likely forget the experience soon after.
Director: Fede Alvarez
Writer: Jay Basu, Fede Alvarez, Steven Knight
Starring: Claire Foy, Sylvia Hoeks, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Cameron Britton, Sverrir Gudnason, Vicky Krieps
Release Date: November 8, 2018
Oktay Ege Kozak is a screenwriter, script coach and film critic. He lives near Portland, Ore., with his wife, daughter, and two King Charles Spaniels.