If there is one thing that has the potential to put me off a film completely, it is the phrase ‘soft reboot’. Attempting to continue or reinvent a story or franchise with significant changes hardly ever goes well, especially when the first property made such an impression. 2011’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, already an English language adaptation of the 2009 Swedish original, was widely regarded as one of the best films of that year. Something of a risk, then, to get the band back together with some very notable member changes.
Set three years after Dragon Tattoo, The Girl In The Spider’s Web sees Lisbeth Salander (this time Claire Foy) enlist the help of old acquaintance Mikael Blomkvist (this time Sverrir Gudnason) to navigate a sticky situation regarding the theft and potential world ending ramifications of an online nuclear codes. Alongside fighting to save humanity, Lisbeth soon finds that the faces behind the organisation she is sparring with a much closer to home that she might ever have imagined.
In a twist that I didn’t expect, it turns out that the key recasting of main characters is not the problem with The Girl In The Spider’s Web, the biggest flaws exist within the details of the plot. Whereas as the first instalment of the franchise centred around the atmospheric hunt for a sadistic serial killer, Spider’s Web is instead a sort of James Bond-esque, gadget heavy, tech heavy, hacking heavy action flick, and fundamentally, that is just not as interesting to me personally. Sure, the fight scenes are blood pumping and the stakes do feel visceral at times, but the degree of hack related hand waving that takes place across the narrative really does serve to lower the overall quality. In turning Lisbeth Salander in to a borderline Ethan Hunt style super hero, literally placing her in to a ‘saving the world’ type situation, a lot of the captivating and characteristic grit of the first film is lost here. It’s arguably more stylish and cleaner, with better executed action, but at the same time this makes it a much more formulaic and cliched experience.
What was so impressive and fresh feeling about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was its unblinking willingness to really shock and distress. The real darkness of what was a high profile, mainstream release in 2011 genuinely did take me by surprise, and in comparison, what is most noticeable about The Girl In The Spider’s Web is that it feels incredibly mundane and run of the mill. Lisbeth Salander is always going to be an intriguing and watchable protagonist, but that doesn’t mean that she can just be inserted in to an average to bad plot and be expected to elevate and save it.
With regards to the major recasting, the one stand out positive of the film is that Claire Foy is an enjoyable Lisbeth. She is a fine, fine actress, and she puts a slightly different, arguably more emotional spin on the character compared to Rooney Mara in 2011. The best comparison to this situation I can think of is Jodie Foster versus Julianne Moore in The Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal. Two great performances given by two extraordinary actresses, but only one (Foster) succeeded in giving us THE definitive Clarice Starling. In this scenario, Foy is very much Julianne Moore. Her Lisbeth is strong, steely and still damaged, but this film presents her in a much more rounded, accessible action hero style compared to the shatteringly void, impenetrable, icy, almost other worldly guise of Rooney Mara. Despite Foy’s best efforts, it feels very much like the filmmakers have stripped away a lot of the fragile, perilously unpredictable character depth from Salander, relying instead on her unique and evocative aesthetic to do most of the work for them. It is a shame, too, that some of the character’s most intriguing history, in fact the key history that determines her circumstances in Dragon Tattoo, has been retconned in order to service the plot of Spider’s Web.
As Mikael Blomkvist, Sverrir Gudnason neither helps nor hinders the quality of the picture, he is just simply there, doing a serviceable job. Compared to Daniel Craig’s leading performance in 2011, the role of Mikael is very much a supporting one, with Foy’s Salander, the much more interesting and captivating character, quite rightly being elevated to true protagonist status. There isn’t much room for them to create much chemistry together this time around, but if I’m being totally honest, the romantic connection between Lisbeth and Blomkvist has always been my least favourite part of the series anyway.
The likes of LaKeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Sylvia Hoeks and child actor Christopher Convery all give solid performances and have their individual moments to shine, but if we’re playing the game of comparison, the strength of the supporting cast is certainly a step down from names like Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright and Joely Richardson!
Overall, The Girl In The Spider’s Web is a film that does not live up to either the charisma and intrigue of its central character or the 2011 picture that proceeded it. At under two hours in length, you certainly don’t feel bereft of your time or patience, but there is definitely a sense that the slicker, more action focused direction of the film doesn’t work as well as the much grittier, darker content and concept of the first. Worth a watch for Claire Foy in her most diverse role to date, but probably not one that you will be itching to come back to again and again.