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New Salander film feels stuck in a ‘Spider’s Web’


One of the films I was most interested in seeing was the new Lisbeth Salander adventure. Turns out I was more than a bit disappointed, as I explain in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

When Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson died in 2005, the world didn’t yet know about the character Lisbeth Salander. Known as much for her body piercings and dragon tattoo as for her incomparable computer-hacking skills, Salander became the principal protagonist in Larsson’s so-called “Millennium” trilogy: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.”

Salander would go on to be portrayed in several films, including Swedish versions of all three books starring Noomi Rapace, and in a 2011 American adaptation of “Dragon Tattoo” directed by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara.

With “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” the series now heads in a new direction. Based on a continuation of Larsson’s original trilogy written by Swedish writer David Lagercrantz, the film is directed by Uruguayan-born filmmaker Fede Alvarez and stars Claire Foy as Salander.

Yet even if Salander remains as intriguing a creation as ever, this new direction is more about simple-minded action and intrigue than it is about characterization and quality.

Now known as the woman who hurts men who hurt women, Salander has become a well-known symbol of vengeance. The movie opens with her attacking a man who has beaten his wife, transferring away his money – much of it to the very wife he has abused – and leaving him with a dire warning: Don’t try to undo anything or, Salander promises, she will ruin him.

Then she is approached by a man (played by Stephen Merchant) with a problem. He has invented the McGuffin of all movie McGuffins – a computer program that will allow someone, anyone, to take control of any computerized system in the world, including the systems that governments use to control their nuclear arsenals.

Seems the man is having second thoughts about trusting those in power with such a program, including – and maybe even especially – government intelligence agencies. And so he wants Salander to steal it back.

Which, without breaking so much as a slight sweat, she is able to do. But, as these things go, that is only the beginning of Salander’s troubles. Pretty soon, she is pursued by a masked killer and his gang, a U.S. National Security Agency operative (played by Lakeith Stanfield), what seems to be the whole of Sweden’s police force, and she is reconnected with an albino-looking woman who is a spectre from her own past.

And then things play out predictably enough, with Salander reconnecting with her old friend Mikael Blomkvist (played by Sverrir Gudnason), being able to hack into any computer system – or open any door – at will while being able to escape from any predicament, whether it involve racing her motorcycle over icy canals or surviving explosions by immersing herself in, yes, bathwater.

Foy — best known for having portrayed Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix series "The Crown" — is decent as Salander, though not as good either as Mara or Rapace. But she isn’t the problem. Neither, necessarily, is director Alvarez. The blame rests with Lagercrantz and with the producers who clearly thought that we wouldn’t notice that a script boasting cheap thrills can’t help but result in an even cheaper-feeling film.

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