This is shaping up to be a Claire Foy type of year, isn’t it? The London native became famous playing a young version of Queen Elizabeth II on TV’s The Crown (and being really really underpaid for her work), so her film roles this year have been as different from that as possible: an American mental patient in Unsane, Mrs. Neil Armstrong in First Man, and now Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web. (The full title is The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, but I’m not going to use it because it’s stupid.)
You may recall that Rooney Mara was nominated for an Oscar for playing the same part in David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and wanted back in, but director Fede Álvarez wanted to find his own Lisbeth. Foy’s not a bad choice, with her harder features and expressive eyes. Despite a Swedish accent that’s worse than her American one, she brings an undercurrent of sorrow to the role that neither Mara nor Noomi Rapace managed. Too bad this vehicle, based on David Lagercrantz’ continuation of the late Stieg Larsson’s crime novel series, isn’t worthy of her.
The plot picks up when a Swedish cryptographer (Stephen Merchant) hires Lisbeth to retrieve a program he designed for the U.S. government that would act as a skeleton key for the entire world’s nuclear arsenal. I guess somehow he thought the Americans wouldn’t want control of it once he created it. Anyway, the job is a setup, and Lisbeth is framed for the murders of the cryptographer and about eight Swedish cops protecting him. She must run from the law, an international crime syndicate, and Needham (LaKeith Stanfield), an NSA agent who takes his sniper rifle to Stockholm looking for the hacker who stole his file. Out of people to trust, Lisbeth turns to Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), the journalist whom she hasn’t spoken to in three years.
An Uruguayan filmmaker, Álvarez is a decent action-film guy who distinguished himself with Don’t Breathe and his recent remake of The Evil Dead. He delivers a couple of well-managed sequences, one in an airport when Needham escapes the custody of the Swedish police and another one in a safehouse where Lisbeth fails to save either the computer program or her client. Unfortunately, the director and his co-writers are helpless in the face of the spy plot in Lagercrantz’ novel, despite some serious pruning. They still saddle Lisbeth with a cute kid (Christopher Convery) who, conveniently, is a math genius on the autism spectrum. Lisbeth is forced to reckon with her childhood trauma in the soggiest of ways, as her estranged sister (Sylvia Hoeks) turns out to be the head of the syndicate. How smart a crime boss can she be, if she wears scarlet outfits that stand out against the snow for miles around?
The prologue sequence here shows the better film that this could have been, as Lisbeth takes physical and financial revenge on a philandering, wife-beating CEO (Claes Bang). Lisbeth Salander: avenging angel of the #MeToo era and rescuer of abused women? Where do I sign up for that film? With our culture the way it is, this character needs to go back to her roots to be timely again. We can only hope that Lagercrantz and the next Dragon Tattoo film take that chance.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Starring Claire Foy and LaKeith Stanfield. Directed by Fede Álvarez. Written by Jay Basu, Fede Álvarez, and Steven Knight, based on David Lagercrantz’ novel. Rated R.