The Girl in the Spider’s Web is an attempt to reboot the potential franchise started by the English-language reboot of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it did not open well, with less than $10 million on opening weekend. And with a B CinemaScore, it didn’t really impress audiences, either. Despite the popularity of the books and the Swedish-language films, no one is mourning the loss of the Millennium franchise.
Following David Fincher’s interesting but commercially unappealing English-language adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sony decided to relaunch the should-be franchise in a new direction, with a new director and a new star. That new direction is generic, the new director is the technically competent Fede Alvarez, and the new star is Claire Foy of The Crown fame. These are all interesting decisions, not because they work—they don’t—but because they show the exact math that kills a franchise. You start with some artistic ambition, a director with a strong authorial voice, a star excavated from the casting office for her particular, glowering scowl. You put together something that looks like it could be a double winner, satisfying audiences and critics, but, well, the box office isn’t on fire. And there are some trophies, but not as many as expected. The experiment is declared a failure, and years later, under a new regime, the formula is reworked. Artistic ambition is replaced with generic functionality, the director is capable but not known for his voice, the new starlet has large eyes. The edges have been sanded down and any quirks of expression thoroughly removed. Surely this will work! It’s basically a superhero movie!
Spoiler alert: It does not work. The Girl in the Spider’s Web feels calculated to please the audience that rejected Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo, but they’re not into this Bond-Bourne hybrid version, either. And it’s not that Spider’s Web is BAD, it’s not, technically, bad. Director Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe) makes a perfectly acceptable film. But it’s also the kind of movie where there is strategically placed art for people to stand before solely to create a good shot. Lisbeth Salander, once a Goth kid who was good with computers and bad with interpersonal relations, is now a full-blown superhero, traipsing around Stockholm with a painted face and gadget pack, torturing men who torture women. She is introduced standing in front of a winged sculpture, GET IT? SHE’S AN AVENGING ANGEL. LIKE THE SCULPTURE.
As Lisbeth, Claire Foy is fine. Good even, if you forget she’s playing LISBETH SALANDER and take it as a test run for a female Bond. I would be very into seeing Foy play a lady 007 after this, but I have zero interest in seeing more of her as Lisbeth. She’s just not suited for this job, and it’s not anything to do with her acting. It’s that she as a human being is not right for this type of role. You are aware of her doing everything in her power to play this inscrutable badass, but one, Lisbeth isn’t actually inscrutable, she’s a wounded animal chewing her way out of a trap, and two, Foy has a tremulousness she can’t shake. Lisbeth is a black box, sealed against further hurt, her scowl is a weapon and her callousness is her firewall. Foy, though, can’t shut down the light of her big blue eyes, or her perpetual pout. At one point a character says, “Lisbeth, you make yourself so ugly,” and I looked around, unsure who she was talking to. Surely not that young woman in the lazy teenager’s Halloween costume?
If anything, Sylvia Hoeks should be playing Lisbeth, but here she is as Camilla, Lisbeth’s secret sister. I admire her commitment to her aesthetic, but nothing stops Camilla from being a ridiculous character—she is straight out of a 1990s Bond movie. The plot is also from a bad Bond movie, complete with a computer doohickey that controls everything. Spider’s Web is chock full of good actors putting a shine on it, but they can’t stop Spider’s Web from feeling like the worst kind of knock-off. The novel The Girl in the Spider’s Web was written by David Lagercrantz, continuing Stieg Larsson’s series after Larsson’s death, and the movie, inheriting this second-generation creativity, calls to mind the post-Robert Ludlum Bourne books, or what happened to Tom Clancy’s imprint after he started hiring people to write books for him to “present”.
I haven’t even gotten to the devolution of Mikael Blomqvist from Michael Nyqvist to Bambi-eyed Sverrir Gudnason (again, not doing anything wrong as an actor, just not suited for this role), but that is a pretty good metaphor for the watering down of the whole film. The personality has been removed from the Dragon Tattoo franchise—which appears to be DOA. It’s not the fault of anyone involved in the movie itself, they’re all doing their best, even if half of them are miscast. It’s more that there is a clear effort to make Lisbeth Salander and her franchise more palatable, which results in a generic and forgettable movie. (And also ignores that the books and original Swedish movie are phenomenons because they AREN’T palatable.) It’s a sad, bedraggled end for one of the 21st century’s most interesting original characters.