I think it’s best to say up front that I have not read any of the Millennium books or seen any of the previous adaptations of the books. I’m familiar with them, and I’ve seen clips of David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I’m not as familiar with the series as I want to be. In a way, that kind of makes me the target audience for The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Since this is acting as a soft reboot of the series, with a different cast to Fincher’s film, it feels like it wants to attract a new audience. However, in doing so, it makes what I know to be a unique mystery series into a generic action film.
The film concerns Lisbeth Salander, a vigilante hacker who targets men who abuse women, who is hired by Frans Balder to hack into the NSA and retrieve a programme he created, Firefall, which would give the user access to all the world’s nuclear weapons. After Salander does so, she finds herself targeted by The Spiders, a wide reaching crime organisation, led by her estranged sister. In order to stop The Spiders getting their hands on Firefall, she recruits former associate Mikael Blomkvist to help her figure out how to find the Spiders and delete Firefall before it’s too late. Now, from what I know about the Millennium series, they are designed to be mysteries, with a greater reliance on investigation than action, especially since the character of Mikael Blomkvist’s job is as a journalist. Even having a look through the plot of the book this film is based on after watching the film, I got the sense that it was designed to be more of a suspense mystery than a story of wild action. However, that tone, and what would help make this series stand out, is not present. Right from the start, it feels like the intention of this film is to make Lisbeth Salander essentially a female equivalent of James Bond, and by doing so, there is nothing unique about the film. Every plot thread in the film is predictable and the focus on action means that we don’t get much time to understand the characters.
This isn’t helped by the structure and writing of the film. Now, this film adapting the fourth book in a franchise without adapting the previous two is not in and of itself a problem. Other franchises have done this to success, such as Jack Reacher, but they do so by making changes to the story to accommodate it being told out of order. That’s not the case here, it’s clear throughout the film that vital pieces of character development and plot that were in the previous two books were necessary for the character development in this film. There’s this history between Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist that isn’t explored but feels like it is the culmination of three films worth of character development and the main plot with the Spiders feels like something that would have been set up in a previous film only to pay off here. The big issue with this though comes through the relationship between Lisbeth and her sister. Firstly, when it’s revealed that Lisbeth’s sister is involved, there is no reaction from Lisbeth or Blomkvist, like they already knew of her sister’s involvement in crime, so the main piece of interesting character development for Lisbeth doesn’t exist. It also means that the whole dynamic between Lisbeth and her sister is underdeveloped since the film is structured to remind people of scenes between the two in previous films that weren’t made. The whole thing is a mess and it’s painfully clear that this book should not have been the one chosen for adaptation.
The performances are fine for the most part. Claire Foy makes Lisbeth Salander an interesting character, even if the look and attitude you felt just from the pictures of Rooney Mara or Noomi Rapace in their versions of the character isn’t as strong with Foy. When the writing makes it so Salander isn’t interesting, Foy does her best to imbue life and character into her, though there is only so much she can do. Svennir Gudnason as Mikael Blomkvist is fine, showing his affection for Salander and strong journalistic principles well, although there is this niggle that Blomkvist probably didn’t need to be in the film. Sylvia Hoeks as Camilla Salander gives a good, intimidating villain performance, but is really underutilised, the same being true for LaKeith Stanfield who is always an engaging presence but here he’s not given an interesting character to work with. Stephen Merchant meanwhile continues to show himself to be a surprisingly strong dramatic actor between this and Logan and Vicky Krieps does a good job at showing the history between her character and Blomkvist, even if she’s ultimately wasted.
On a technical level, the film has this dark atmosphere throughout that helps build the tension where the script is lacking and, whilst I don’t think they work in the context of the film, the action scenes are engaging and well shot by director Fede Alvarez and DP Pedro Luque. However, for the most part, the work done by them and the editor is fairly generic. Nothing is done to really make the style of the film stand out and, considering how they’ve had to follow David Fincher, it is a massive shame for the film.
Overall, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a mess that probably couldn’t have been saved because of the way the film was constructed. By adapting the fourth book in a series which was seemingly reliant on plot points and character development from the previous books which weren’t adapted, there is no way to get invested in the characters because you don’t really know them. Through this, and the lack of style in the film, the whole thing just comes across as boring and generic, which, from what I know, is not how the Millennium series has been described in the past.
My Rating: 2/5