Saturday 20 November 2021

Movie Review: The Girl In The Spider's Web (2018)

An action thriller, The Girl In The Spider's Web is overloaded with unlikely narrow escapes, but with enough brooding character angst to maintain interest.

When she was a child, Lisbeth Salander escaped from the estate of her abusive father, a powerful tycoon with connections to Russian mobsters. But her sister Camilla stayed behind and suffered years of exploitation.

Now the adult Lisbeth (Claire Foy) is a hacker based in Stockholm, and a vigilante targeting abusive men. She is contacted by Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), an ex-National Security Agency (NSA) employee, to steal and prevent the misuse of software he wrote for the NSA enabling anyone to take control of the world's military satellites. Lisbeth is successful, but her hack alerts the NSA's Ed Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), who travels to Stockholm to investigate. Gabriella Grane (Synnøve Macody Lund) of the Swedish Security Service does not welcome Ed's intrusion on her soil.

More dangerous is a violent gang that steals the code from Lisbeth before she can hand it to Frans. The software is protected by a pass code known only to Bader and his young son August, and they are both soon in danger. Lisbeth reaches out to reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) for help as the ghosts of the past catch up with her.

An adaptation of the book by David Lagercrantz based on Stieg Larsson's characters, The Girl In The Spider's Web takes the series in a new direction. The screenplay by Jay Basu, Steven Knight, and director Fede Álvarez, is packed full of action, and while the dark mood and subtext of abuse remain, here the emphasis is on a Bond-type conspiracy and a cliffhanger (sometimes literally) every 15 minutes.

Some of the thrills are excellent, including a motorcycle escape on an iced river, and a technology-enabled airport breakout. But others become repetitive and quite over-the-top. With Claire Foy wearing a singular expression of epic pissed-offness, Lisbeth escapes a massive gas explosion that destroys a neighbourhood, a hail of bullets, a really high jump, a torture session in a rubber suit, twice being drugged, and several physical scuffles with burly assassin-types. Her frequent near-death moments become numbing and steal away from the more cerebral and emotional parts of the drama.

And The Girl In The Spider's Web does contain enough ingredients for human-level interactions to deserve toned-down theatrics. Once revealed, the mastermind behind the conspiracy to steal the software provides excellent opportunities for the past and the present to collide, and the triple themes of abuse, revenge, and hacking defining Lisbeth's life merge into a compelling narrative. Meanwhile her relationship with young August is also rich with possibilities for personal growth.

In contrast, the bond between Lisbeth and Mikael suffers the most with the reorientation towards action. Here Mikael is very much a secondary character along for the ride, the writer out of place amidst all the stuntwork and flying limbs.

The Girl In The Spider's Web carries intricate threads, but the execution is more expedient than exquisite.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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