The Girl In The Spider’s Web has been splashed around by Sony as a “new Dragon Tattoo story.” It is a new kind of Dragon Tattoo story, but not the kind anyone wanted. Steig Larsson’s original trilogy was insular, investigative and deeply concerned with calling out sexism and social ills in his native Sweden. It was a rally cry against toxic masculinity with a heady infusion of mystery and familial angst. As directed by David Fincher, it was electric, but it was also insular. Contained. Measured. When David Lagerkrantz took the helm of the book series, it felt like a cash grab. I didn’t read that novel, but if the Sony reboot based upon it is any indication, Lagerkrantz missed the point. Whether it’s the source material or the vision of director and co-writer Fede Alvarez (who made the unexpectedly wonderful, Don’t Breathe), The Girl In The Spider’s Web takes a hard turn into action, and away from the erudite qualities that made its predecessors so impactful.
Indeed, Claire Foy didn’t get a chance to play the nuanced Lisbeth Salander that Rooney Mara and Noomi Rapace did, she got a heroine with only the caliber of a lesser James Bond entry. Think the nonsense of the Pierce Brosnan years, but without the campy winking. We rejoin Lisbeth as she exacts some justice on a bad man. It’s satisfying and it’s what we’re here for, but it’s not really what we get. She’s soon hired to do an “impossible” hacking job that draws her into an international conflict between the NSA and a Swedish software developer. The NSA lackey she rankles is Lakeith Stanfield, who like Foy, deserves better, and is vaulted from pro-hacker to super spy status for narrative interest. Of course, Mikael Blomquist is here, too. But instead of the insightful journalist we expect him to be, he’s a boring and useless set-piece. Where once Mikael was a rare emotional connection for Lisbeth, he’s now her damsel in distress. It might have felt like a subversion if it wasn’t a boring plot hole.
The Girl In The Spider’s Web falls into the sequel trap, assuming that fan service and one-upmanship are essential. That the goal must be to outdo what came before. And in this, it loses its way so completely that it crashes into a new genre, leaving only confusion in its wake. The beats of The Girl In The Spider’s Web are so similar to Skyfall that one would think it was born of studio notes, instead of a richly defined world with complex characters. It’s not just that the franchise lost Fincher and Mara and Daniel Craig (to an actual James Bond contract) — there’s talent enough here to overcome that. It’s that its soul, and its cagey little heart. And any sense of how to tell a story about one of the most compelling characters to surface this century.