"The Girl In The Spider's Web" Is Another Franchise Nonstarter

It’s been seven years since Sony Pictures and director David Fincher (“The Social Network”) brought an English-language version of Swedish novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to the silver screen; seven years of decidedly muted demand for a follow-up. It’s not that Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian’s inky black adaptation of the late Stieg Larsson’s book wasn’t solidly received. But Larsson’s Millennium series had already been adapted in its native tongue over three different films in 2009, a Noomi Rapace-starring trilogy that likely sated the thirst of die-hard fans. Moreover, Fincher has rarely shown interest in making sequels to his own movies.

Accordingly, Sony’s take on the material ended up a franchise that wasn’t. Until now.

Adapted from 2015’s The Girl In The Spider’s Web (a novel written by David Lagercrantz as an extension of Larsson’s series) and co-written and directed by Fede Alvarez (“Don’t Breathe”), Sony’s soft reboot firmly establishes a predilection for franchise nonstarters. Stripped of Fincher’s slick visuals and Rooney Mara’s inspired turn as vengeful computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, “Spider’s Web” is an anemic bore, the kind of movie whose antagonist arbitrarily sings “Itsy Bitsy Spider” because, you know, the title. (Incredibly, Alvarez and co-writers Jay Basu and Steven Knight show no qualms in making a long-term survivor of sexual abuse the villain of their film.)

Claire Foy (“Unsane”) does her best as a version of Salander utterly starved of characterization, the actress intermittently communicating more feeling with her eyes than the pic’s writers manage in two hours. “Spider’s Web” sees Lisbeth hired by computer programmer Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to recover a dangerous computer program called Firefall. It’s capable of accessing worldwide nuclear codes and apparently turning a strong, atypical female protagonist into an ersatz James Bond.

Lisbeth’s ex-lover and journalist Mikael Blomkvist, played so convincingly by Daniel Craig in “Dragon Tattoo,” is kept in the background here – presumably because of the story’s needlessly high stakes. It’s a move for the best. Actor Sverrir Gudnason is no Craig. (Vicky Krieps, so good last year in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” is shamefully underused here as Blomkvist’s boss.)

Once Firefall inevitably falls into the wrong hands, Lisbeth reluctantly teams up with an American NSA agent named Edwin Needham (LaKeith Stanfield) to protect Balder’s son August, the only person capable of unlocking the program. By this point the movie has already collapsed into a heap of tedious techno-babble and action movie clichés. All that’s left is to watch things burn, figuratively and literally, as Salander confronts her long-lost sister and career criminal Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) while Needham’s desk jockey turns into a world-beating sniper.

Without the ultraviolence of his previous films to fall back on, Fede Alvarez finds himself straightjacketed, backed into a corner where he will unavoidably, unfavorably be compared to David Fincher, legend. And Foy’s real screen presence stands no chance against the banalities of the movie she’s in, one that plays like it was made by dullards, for dullards.

We’re denied even the courtesy of a seedy B-movie take on the material. Even the hardest of hardcore Lisbeth Salander fans are advised to stay away.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: November 9, 2018
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: Fede Alvarez
Screenwriters: Fede Alvarez, Jay Basu, Steven Knight
Starring: Claire Foy, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, Sverrir Gudnason, Vicky Krieps, Cameron Britton, Christopher Convery
MPAA Rating: R (for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity)