As with all review-caps, SPOILERS AHEAD! Consider yourself warned.
Though I do enjoy Swedish crime drama, I’ll admit I’m not well-versed in the snowy, icy, techie world of Lisbeth Salander. I haven’t read Stieg Larsson’s novels and as far as the films, I’ve only seen David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) – couldn’t get into it. But when the initial trailer for The Girl in The Spider’s Web came out I was intrigued, as a decent action-y thriller always appeals to me – and that’s pretty much what I got. This new flick serves as both a sequel (of sorts) and a reboot at the same time. It doesn’t require that the audience know any of the characters or backstory to follow it, which is good – but I imagine that if you are a fan of the other movies and the books, you’ll find Easter eggs galore if you look closely.
For those completely unfamiliar with the franchise, Lisbeth Salander is a Stockholm-based hacker-whiz and vigilante, with a punky-Goth/I-shoulda-been-in-The-Matrix-look and a personality to match Sweden’s winter weather. The flick begins during her childhood, where young Lisbeth (Beau Gadsdon) and her sister Camilla (Carlotta von Falkenhayn) suffered horrible abuse at the hands of their father. Thankfully, we’re not privy to the details, but it’s bad enough that when he summons them to his bedroom, Lisbeth decides she’d rather jump out the window. She begs Camilla to come with her, but being too afraid to make the leap, she stays behind. Lisbeth takes an impossibly long fall that would undoubtedly kill the average person – but of course she survives by landing in the fluffy snow. Then Little Lisbeth runs away, never to see her sister again.
Cut to present day where Lisbeth’s (Claire Foy) been carrying out a one-woman crusade against abusers. She makes cool and quick work of a white-collar pig who makes a habit of beating the women in his life – be they his wife, someone else’s wife or prostitutes. Lisbeth uses her mad tech skills to string the guy up in his own house and empty his bank accounts, so his wife and kid can get away from him. Then she disappears into the night on her Ducati (which incidentally, I kept wondering throughout the flick how in the hell one manages to ride a racing bike on snow and ice without crashing all the time – just doesn’t seem terribly practical). We then get a tiny glimpse of what passes for Lisbeth’s personal life – she goes to a nightclub full of people and finds the only spot where she can be alone to smoke and sulk. And in her minimalist warehouse flat, she sort-of chats with a chick she just slept with (Andreja Pejic) about her pet lizard and an old picture of Camilla she’s thrown in the trash – someone she says she’s glad is dead, but the raw emotion on her face indicates how deeply she still feels the loss.
Lisbeth then gets a call about a job and meets a fellow nerdy genius, Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), a former NSA programmer whose creation, Project Firefall, enables its user to gain control over nuclear weapons all over the globe. Afraid of what will be done with it, he asks Lisbeth to steal the program from the NSA in Washington, D.C. and return it to him. As Lisbeth works her hacker magic, in D.C. NSA operative Ed Needham (a totally underutilized Lakeith Stanfield) spots her. Despite shutting down the system’s power, Lisbeth manages to get the program out – but as Needham seems to have nobody to answer to (because that’s totally how a government agency works, right?), once he tracks the hack to Stockholm, he grabs his coat and gets on the first flight out.
While Lisbeth enjoys a cozy evening in her cold, dark flat taking a bath in her cold, metal-frame tub and having bad dreams about Camilla, a team of masked thugs break in, steal the laptop with Firefall and try to kill her by blowing the place up. Lisbeth escapes with her lizard and a nasty bullet graze on her dragon tattoo. She drops off the lizard with her hacker buddy Plague (Cameron Britton) and ‘borrows’ some of his gear.
Meanwhile, Balder and his young son August (Christopher Convery) decide to turn to the Swedish police when Lisbeth doesn’t show up at the appointed time and place with Firefall. While the police put them into a safe house, the police chief (Synnøve Macody Lund) has a pleasant chat with newly-arrived Ed Needham, warning him that if he tries doing any shady spy stuff, she’ll have him deported.
Needham yeah-yeah’s her but then immediately goes looking for Lisbeth – who reluctantly turns to her old lover, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason). As it happens, Mikael’s stuck in a life-rut, with a nasty case of writer’s block and his magazine being taken over by some twenty-something wunderkind – so Lisbeth’s call for help couldn’t be better timed. She asks him to help her find out who broke into her cold, dark flat and stole Firefall.
Lisbeth sets up shop in a dive motel while doing surveillance on the Balders’ safe house – and of course it isn’t long before the thugs who stole the program show up to capture them. Lisbeth intervenes but not before the baddies murder Balder and kidnap August. In the meantime, Mikael’s discovered that the thugs are actually part of a criminal organization that used to be run by – and get ready for the lamest coincidence yet – Lisbeth’s father!
And guess who’s running it now? Well, it’s none other than Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) of course, who’s not only looking for control over all the nukes in the world, but also revenge on Lisbeth (while looking totally fierce in her all-red ensemble and bleached eyebrows). But before her thugs can get too far away with August, Lisbeth catches up, snatches him back and takes him to some abandoned radar tower (or something) that looks an awful lot like her cold, dark flat except more bunker-like. While doing as much getting-to-know-you as Lisbeth is capable of, she not only discovers that August is a kindred spirit, but also that he’s the only one who knows the passwords to Firefall, as it’s some kind of funky math code/equation thingy that only he can solve (because of course it is).
So then Mikael arrives to help, and while he does what passes for trauma medicine in the movies – aka he staples Lisbeth’s bleeding wound shut – they have a few seconds’ worth of a heart-to-heart, where it’s obvious that they both still have the hots for each other. Before things get too cozy, she takes off to find the only person who can possibly get August safely out of the country – NSA tourist Needham, who’s been snatched up by the Stockholm cops and thrown in a holding cell at the airport while he waits for his flight out. Lisbeth works her tech magic and springs him but makes him promise to get August to the US.
Of course, by the time they get back to the bunker, Camilla and her thugs have found the bunker (thanks to August answering a call from his Dad, even though he knows his Dad’s dead). They take him off to – where else? – Camilla and Lisbeth’s childhood home. Lisbeth infiltrates the place but gets caught and dragged up to where Camilla has August and tells the poor kid to just do the stupid math problem and open the program. Oh, yes, and by this time we’ve also found out that the police chief is in on the whole thing too – but then Camilla just kills her off (so I’m not sure why any of that was necessary, but hey, moving on…).
Camilla demonstrates some of the horror she’s lived through by trapping Lisbeth in a vacuum-sealed bag, while monologuing about how she’s taken over for their evil father. Thankfully, before she can suffocate Lisbeth, Needham and Plague intervene by doing this really-cool-but-kinda-ridiculous thing where Needham fires a computer-guided super-rifle (because of course he’s also a sniper in addition to being a tech guy) from a mile away to hit all the baddies using a CG map of the house. Camilla grabs the laptop and drives off, but Needham manages to hit her driver and send the car into a heinous rollover crash.
Camilla escapes the wreck (because of course she does) and tries taking off through the woods – but since she’s injured and dressed for Fashion Week instead of hiking, it gives Lisbeth plenty of time to catch up. The two sisters have their final confrontation in a much more scenic location on the edge of a cliff, where Camilla reveals that she blames Lisbeth for how she turned out. After all the other women she rescued, she never once thought to rescue her own sister. Good point. Lisbeth breaks down and confesses that she was too afraid go back (seems like there should’ve been more to it than that, but okay). Camilla then gives up the laptop and takes the leap she should’ve taken years before, but of course, it’s to her death.
In the wrap-up, Needham finds the laptop but not Firefall. Lisbeth’s deleted it in keeping with Balder’s wishes. Curses! Foiled again. Then August’s mother flies in to claim her son – and Mikael reviews his newest article, ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web.’ But thankfully for his character, he realizes how pathetic it is for him to keep exploiting Lisbeth for his personal gain and deletes it. And then finally we see Lisbeth setting the family home on fire – then she rides off to undoubtedly continue hacking, being a vigilante and to find another cold, dark warehouse to live in with her pet lizard.
Now for all the snark I just put into that recap, I have to say I actually did enjoy the flick. It’s the kind I wish Hollywood would make a lot more of – the mid-budget thriller/actioner. Den of Geek published an article talking about how in this day and age of what appears to be an extreme either-or situation with the studios – mega-budget tentpoles or micro-budget flicks with no in-between – the few movies each studio made in the $30-50 million range (GITSW came in at $43 million according to IMDB) have been performing well – quietly, but well. Speaking for myself, mid-budget thrillers and actioners are the ones I buy and re-watch most often, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
And while GITSW’s filmmakers absolutely deserve to get dinged on every sloppy/lazy/lame contrivance that ended up on the screen, overall the flick is still a decent thriller. And that’s due mostly to Claire Foy’s engaging performance as Lisbeth. She makes the character a refreshing change from the typical dude-hero, and perhaps a more accurate reflection of a 21st century woman. Foy projects badass attitude without getting cartoony and backs it up with the ability to hold her own against the baddies in a fight. Most importantly, Foy makes sure to project all that Lisbeth feels in her expressions – which makes an essential difference in the character. It ensures that you know that Lisbeth isn’t a sociopath, but a damaged person who bottles up her emotions – but feels deeper than most. I would absolutely go to see more of these stories as long as Foy remains in the lead (and the overall writing improves). With the proper care going forward, I think Lisbeth Salander has a bright (and profitable) future ahead.
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Written by: David Lagercrantz, Jay Basu, Fede Alvarez, Stephen Knight based on Stieg Larsson’s novels
Release Date: Nov. 9, 2018
Run Time: 1hr 57 min
Producer/Distributor: MGM, New Regency Pictures, Pascal Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions, Sony/Columbia Pictures