Movie Review: ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ Is A Confounding Thriller

I do not know exactly how I feel about the latest entry in the Lisbeth Salander series. I have been a huge fan of these characters for a decade now (even named my dog Blomkvist), but I can’t help having very mixed feelings about this latest iteration. It’s an exciting and well acted thriller, but certain things just don’t add up for me. 

I remember being excited about the book a few years back and buying it for my daughter for Christmas. I figured I would read it at some point when she finished it, but she got backed up and (long story short) we both forgot until the movie was announced. Then, we decided we’d wait to see the movie first. Well, now that I’ve seen it, I really want to read the book because I feel like there is a huge disconnect between this story and the rest of ‘Dragon Tattoo’ universe. I’ll try and explain without ruining anything intricate to the plot. 

My biggest problem with this film really takes place in the first few minutes of it. The movie begins with a young Lisbeth and her apparent sister, Camilla, playing chess in some scenic house. They are invited into a room by their father and some innuendo takes place that is either in reference to something sexual happening or torture with this weird machine that later is used to trap someone in a black, stretchy substance. Either way, Lisbeth escapes and leaves her sister behind. Which means she never returns. 

In other words, Lisbeth could not have burned her father for abusing her mother or any of that. She likely could not have been abducted by the state and sexually tortured either, but perhaps that happened in a different way? Bottom line, this would lead anyone who has seen previous films or read the novels to believe that this narrative is ignoring previous backstories and creating something new. The problem is that the whole rest of the film operates like a sequel to the previous ones. It assumes you know about Blomkvist and Lisbeth’s relationship. It assumes you know about what happened in the previous books. It assumes you know what Millennium is and why they might be in their predicament. It assumes you know about Blomkvist’s relationship with his editor. It assumes a lot of stuff while changing some pretty fundamental things. 

Now, if you can manage to ignore all this (which I certainly could not) then you will likely find ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ pretty entertaining. Lisbeth is front and center in this story and Claire Foy is totally up to the challenge. While she arguably has a lot less nuance to play with in this script than Rooney Mara or Noomi Rapace, she still gets across some of the pain we think we know she has been through. She also gets to play Lisbeth as a truly bad ass hacking superhero and a little less of a wounded human being. She certainly has personal turmoil to go through and lots of getting shot at, kidnapped, drugged, and blown up. It’s just nothing compared to what she went through in the previous stories, because she seems less human than before. Luckily, this super version of Lisbeth is more Lara Croft than Diana Prince, but she is still a bit outside the tangible loner we have previously known. 

The other positive elements of this film mostly boil down to the technical. The story is an okay tale about a computer program that accesses weapons getting into the wrong hands and Lisbeth having to get it back. Which is fine, but it’s the individual sequences that are the most memorable. Whether it’s Lisbeth punishing an adulterous wife beater or a brilliant sequence where she has to free a federal agent in an airport, director Fede Alvarez has shaped some pretty memorable scenes. There is also some highly stylized camera work, a decent musical score, and the most memorable villain in the series. Sadly, Blomkvist feels like an unnecessary afterthought who’s thrown in because you couldn’t make one of these movies without him. At least actor Sverrir Gudnason gives a decent enough performance.

At the end of the day, if you can overlook the revisionist history the film tries to throw at the audience then there is a lot to like here. Personally, I was both disappointed and excited to go home to finally read the book I had put off. I’m hoping that the novel will ether illuminate some of this new backstory that Lisbeth has or make a logical case for how this could fit together with the other stories. So, I guess that means the movie did something right and I’ll likely see it again. I just can’t fully recommend it. 

Nathan Ligon

Nathan Ligon

Film / Theater / Music Critic at Red Carpet Crash
The son of Executive Producer Jon Ligon, Nathan has spent his life in the company of filmmakers and some of the best musicians in Dallas, TX. He has since become a highly viewed critic and short filmmaker for Red Carpet Crash and Shot & Cut Films.
Nathan Ligon

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