- by Jeff Beck
The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Disappointing Turn for a Compelling Series (Blu-ray)
In the last decade, we’ve seen several cinematic adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s novels about notorious hacker Lisbeth Salander, including the magnificent “Millennium Trilogy” starring Noomi Rapace, and David Fincher’s American remake of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig. While many believed that the next logical step was to follow up the remake with the second book in the trilogy, unfortunately it never came together. Instead, it was decided to adapt David Lagercrantz’s “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” and recast the main characters, turning it into a kind of reboot. After the incredible success of Fincher’s film, which earned five Oscar nominations that included a win for Film Editing and a nod for Mara, it certainly seemed like a strange move to change everything up, but given what we’d seen before, there seemed cause to be cautiously optimistic.
Taking place sometime after the events of the “Millennium Trilogy,” the film opens by showing us Lisbeth’s escape from her criminal father at a very young age, resulting in her leaving her sister Camilla behind. In present day, Lisbeth (Claire Foy) is hired by a programmer to retrieve a program known as “Firefall” from the NSA, which he had developed for the purpose of controlling the world’s nuclear arsenal, but now feels is too dangerous for anyone to have. Lisbeth successfully steals the program, but it gets stolen from her by unknown assailants shortly afterward. This prompts her to contact her friend Mikael Blomkvist (Sverir Gudnason) for help in finding those who took it. So begins another dangerous adventure for the pair, who are forced to put their lives on the line in an effort to save millions.
As mentioned before, the original trilogy of Lisbeth Salander films (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”) was masterfully done, resulting in some of the best films of the year. The subsequent American remake was rather enjoyable thanks to its great cast, though it didn’t quite hit the hits of the original film. When it comes to following up both of these adaptations, it’s a rather large pair of shoes for any filmmaker to fill, which no doubt put quite a lot of pressure on director/co-writer Fede Alvarez, who had quite a task of trying to live up to what had come before.
Unfortunately, what he ends up delivering with “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is a rather bland take on these characters, coupled with a narrative that has some foundational problems. For starters, who in their right mind would ever develop a program that could control the world’s nuclear arsenal? A program such as this is obviously too dangerous to exist, and the brilliant programmer who created it only realizes this after he completes it? Let’s not even get into the silliness of a program like this even being possible, for that borders on James Bond-level absurdity. The difference is, those films, particularly the older ones, are meant to be seen as just a little silly, while Lisbeth’s adventures are clearly not.
As we’ve seen in the past, writing is clearly not Alvarez’s strong suit, what with his misguided remake of “Evil Dead” and the problematic “Don’t Breathe.” He is joined by screenwriter Jay Basu, whose previous projects, including “Monsters: Dark Continent” and “Fast Girls,” were not received well. Both of them apparently rewrote a screenplay by Oscar nominee Steven Knight in an attempt to make the film more “cinematic,” but what they ultimately changed it into is a forgettable action movie with a ludicrous, eye-rolling plot (which is apparently quite different than it was in the Lagercrantz novel).
When it comes to Claire Foy, a marvelous actress whose work in “The Crown” and “First Man” is stunning, her performance is much like the film: It’s not bad per se, but she doesn’t really make an impact, certainly not in the way that Rapace or Mara did. It’s not necessarily her fault, for she isn’t really given a lot to work with here. Her Lisbeth pretty much just runs around and does technical things, giving Foy little opportunity to showcase her remarkable talent as an actress. Sadly, given that the film bombed at the box office, it’s very doubtful that she’ll get to reprise the role.
This pretty much leaves us with the question of where, if anywhere, will the series go next? Do they go back to the original plan, or do they move forward to the next book with better screenwriters? Whichever route they ultimately take, it’s going to take some serious retooling to get it back on track. The filmmakers behind “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” let it get away from them in their effort to turn it into an action film, while basically leaving the characters in the lurch. We can only hope that the next iteration of Lisbeth Salander that finds its way to the big screen will restore the character to her former glory.
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The film is rather dark throughout much of its two-hour runtime, but the picture always remains crisp and clear. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects in outstanding quality. Overall, a fantastic job has been done on this release, leaving you with an experience that could scarcely be better.
Commentary with Fede Alvarez and Jay Basu: An informative track that has the director and co-writer discussing the making of the film from writing to filming.
Claire Foy: Becoming Lisbeth (10 minutes): A featurette in which Claire Foy discusses her character, while others discuss her performance.
All About the Stunts (7 Minutes): As you can probably guess, this is a featurette that delves into the film’s extensive stuntwork.
Creating the World: The Making-Of (16 Minutes): A featurette that goes behind the scenes to explore the making of the film, featuring interviews with Foy and multiple crewmembers.
Secrets of the Salander Sisters (5 Minutes): A featurette that focuses on Lisbeth and her sister Camilla.
Deleted Scenes (16 minutes): A collection of eight deleted scenes that includes a slightly different ending.
With its ridiculous plot and overreliance on action, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” marks a disappointing turn in the Lisbeth Salander film series. It’s always a big gamble to try and reboot a franchise, but in this case, the filmmakers were simply not up to the task of handling these now-iconic literary characters, resulting in a film that leaves little to no impact upon its completion. It would certainly be great to see Lisbeth on screen once again, but if, and only if, a lot more thought goes into it next time.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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