The Girl in the Spider's Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story
2018, R, 117 min. Directed by Fede Alvarez. Starring Claire Foy, Sylvia Hoeks, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Sverrir Gudnason, Vicky Krieps.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Nov. 9, 2018
Lisbeth Salander is one of the more fascinating characters in recent fiction. Created by Swedish author Stieg Larsson in his trilogy of novels beginning with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, she ultimately embodies a vengeful spirit, one who culturally and with a fair amount of prescience, called attention to the sexual abuse of women, even though that has been happening for eons. Writers have described, rather reductively, Salander as a person who hurts men who hurt women. Indeed, she does that. Over the course of Larsson’s original trilogy (the author died in 2004), and now with fellow countryman and journalist David Lagercrantz picking up the torch and continuing the story with two more novels (including this film adaptation), the complicated life of this woman continues to unfold with new secrets revealed and, of course, a lot of computer hacking into the lives of horrible people.
As previously played by Noomi Rapace in the original Swedish adaptations of the books, and Rooney Mara in the David Fincher film of the first book, much was made of Lisbeth’s “style.” Punk-rock haircut, piercings out the ear (so to speak), and exclusively black clothing, oh, and she rides a motorcycle. These kinds of physical trappings that so easily telegraph her outsider persona often get in the way of her actual character. She is a person who suffered catastrophic childhood trauma and has created an interior world that incorporates her nonchalant gender fluidity and her worldview of the systemic patriarchy and corrupt social systems that have basically ruled (and ruined) her life. These are her tools for coping, but Lisbeth’s hardened resilience, that armor, is the very thing that maintains her sanity as she has been chewed up and exploited by the system that has failed her time and again.
So, now we have a new entry into the saga of Lisbeth (here played by The Crown’s Claire Foy, eschewing much of the previous performances’ stylistic accoutrement, opting for a stripped down aesthetic). It's one that delves into Lisbeth’s childhood, and pretty much leaves her sometimes partner, the investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Gudnason) relegated to a tertiary level. Which frankly, is fine by me, as his character is basically an author’s stand-in who gets to have sex with the main character. But I digress.
This new film introduces Lisbeth’s sister Camilla (Hoeks) and, in a flashback to their childhood, Zalachenko, their father who was involved in all kinds of gangster business, and an implication of incest. Director Fede Alvarez kind of hedges his bets on that one, seemingly more concerned with staging kinetic bathroom fights and dropping loads of information about some program called Firefall that its creator, Frans Balder (Merchant, in an extremely weird bit of casting) has made that basically makes all the world’s nuclear missiles available with a few strokes of the keyboard.
The plots of these films and stories, and so much of Scandinavian crime fiction in general, often rely too heavily on coincidence and chance, be they serial killers or multinational cutthroats. And while this chapter of Lisbeth’s life is similarly convoluted (spoiler alert: Her sister isn’t dead), they are dark and gritty and compelling. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about them, yet Alvarez, along with his cast, has kept to the spirit of the intrepid Lisbeth, and anyone who can remotely detonate an airbag in another vehicle is no one you want to fuck with.
For an interview with director Fede Alvarez about rebuilding Lisbeth Salander's story as a dark European fairy tale (plus hidden rocket bases), read "Into the Woods."