It’s been seven years since David Fincher delivered his gritty, American take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Unfortunately, a sequel never materialized, despite the fact that Sony has been dead set on turning the popular book series into a franchise. Now, they’ve completed their brand new attempt in the form of The Girl in the Spider’s Web which brings in a new director, writer, cast and a decidedly different take on the material than what came before. The result, though unlike what preceded it, still winds up being a thrilling and arguably more crowd-pleasing effort.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which is based on author David Lagercrantz’ fourth novel in the series, centers on a man who was recently fired from a high-ranking position within the National Security Agency. He then recruits world-class hacker and all around troubled badass Lisbeth Salander to steal his program, FireWall. The program has the ability to access codes for nuclear weapons across the globe, making it very dangerous, if put into the wrong hands. Lisbeth’s theft draws the attention of an NSA agent who traces the activity to Sweden. Things get extra complicated when mysterious Russian criminals take Lisbeth’s laptop with FireWall on it, while also kidnapping the man who can make the program work. Now, Lisbeth, with the help of someone from her past, must try and recover the program before it falls into the wrong hands.
Director Fede Alvarez, whose previous work includes the Evil Dead remake and the horror hit Don’t Breathe, found himself in an unenviable position creatively with this project. Does one pick up where Fincher left off? Just remake the same movie again and hope to more successfully launch the Dragon Tattoo trilogy? Instead, Alvarez took an entirely different approach, putting the character of Lisbeth Salander in the driver’s seat, no longer playing second fiddle to journalist Mikael Blomkvist, in what is equal parts action and thriller, as opposed to much more of the latter. It’s a decision that ultimately pays off and makes for a movie that seems much more commercial in nature. Not commercial in the cash-grabby sense, but more as a result of what feels like genuine artistic direction.
I should also clarify that I haven’t read the novels, nor have I seen the Swedish trilogy of movies. I’m basing this strictly on the merits of the movie itself, in contrast to what David Fincher did, which was, unquestionably, a much darker, gritty and subverted take. That’s not to say things don’t get dark in The Girl in the Spider’s Web. They absolutely do. But this movie is more flashy, action-heavy and spectacle-laced. As such, it doesn’t feel like such a demanding exercise.
What’s interesting is that this feels more akin to the modern Mission: Impossible movies, or certain entries in the James Bond franchise, than it does the previous adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It also makes a strong case against ever making James Bond a female, as movies like this effectively prove that Hollywood should be focused on creating new franchises centered on strong female characters. And there’s certainly an irony to the fact that this feels heavily Bond influenced when the last movie did actually star the current 007, Daniel Craig.
One of the best things about Fincher’s movie was Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth. Claire Foy (The Crown), who is having herself a moment, steps in as the mysterious hacker who seeks justice for wronged women in the world. If The Girl in the Spider’s Web has an ace up its sleeve, it’s Foy. She’s magnetic, full of energy and steals every scene. Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant and Sylvia Hoeks do a great job filling out the supporting cast, but this is Foy’s movie. And hopefully, Foy’s franchise. No disrespect to Sverrir Gudnason, but he’s a clear downgrade when compared to Daniel Craig in the role of Mikael Blomkvist.
This winds up being a movie that plays very well into the sensibilities of Fede Alvarez, while also serving as something one might not have expected, based on his previous work. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a very potent spy thriller with a thoroughly compelling female lead and serves as a total reinvention of this franchise. It may not be the sequel that many wanted to see, but it’s certainly something I sense a lot of moviegoers are going to enjoy. Sony made the right movie with this one.