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The Girl in the Spider’s Web

It’s fair to say that earlier in the century The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a pop culture phenomenon. Stieg Larsson’s three novels, posthumously published starting in 2005, were worldwide hits. I enjoyed the stories through their 2009 Swedish movie adaptations (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST) which launched their star Noomi Rapace (PROMETHEUS, PASSION, DEAD MAN DOWN, THE DROP, CLOSE) into international movie stardom, and their leading man Michael Nyqvist into spending his last years playing bad guys in Hollywood movies including ABDUCTION, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL and JOHN WICK (where he delivers the best syllable: “Oh.”). David Fincher’s 2011 English language take on the first book was pretty great and even got Rooney Mara an unlikely but well-deserved Oscar nomination.

But it wasn’t a big enough hit to justify a sequel budgeted for Fincher, Mara and Daniel Craig, so after years of haggling they went with plan B: a lower budget sequel with new director and cast, based not on the next in the trilogy but a continuation written by new author David Lagercrantz. And nobody really seemed to be waiting for that.

Except me! Selling point #1: director Fede Alvarez, who really impressed me with EVIL DEAD and DON’T BREATHE. Selling point #2: less grim and rapey, more fun and actiony. You still got the trademark fucked up and fetishy shit of the snow-bitten Larssonverse, but in this one our heroine is never sexually assaulted, but does have high speed chases on multiple vehicle types. Hot move: ditching police cars by jumping your motorcycle onto a frozen lake.

I felt that Fincher, by having what I called at the time “an evil version of a James Bond opening credits sequence” and casting Craig as the boyfriend-in-distress, positioned Lisbeth Salander as a 21st century alternative to 007. And it’s true, she’s a modern day pulp hero. Just like Bond she was in a series of books that were continued after the author’s death, and she’s been in a series of movies played by multiple actors, where she becomes increasingly capable of spectacular feats. Like Bond she has many sexual conquests, but they include men, women, and in this one a 6′ 1″ trans woman (model Andreja Pejic). Unlike Bond, Lisbeth dresses punk and works against the government and the system as a freelancer or vigilante. And she has an expensive sports car, but it’s stolen.

One weird thing about this character, or a sign that the movie worked on me: despite my attachment to both Rapace and Mara’s versions of Lisbeth, there wasn’t a moment where I didn’t accept Claire Foy (SEASON OF THE WITCH) in the role. Hers is arguably less angry and definitely less aggressively punk (no spikes, no shaved hair), but she does have some intimidating facepaint during her opening vigilante mission to terrorize a woman-beating CEO.

In this one – adapted by Steven Knight (EASTERN PROMISES, REDEMPTION, LOCKE) and then revised by Alvarez and Jay Basu (MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT) – Lisbeth is hired by genius computer programmer Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant, LOGAN) to steal back a program he created for the NSA. It’s called Firefall and it has something to do with nuclear weapons so he’s decided it’s too dangerous to exist. Yeah, no problem, but when she breaks into the NSA servers Agent Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield, MILES AHEAD) notices it happening, traces the source and personally heads to Stockholm to find her. She has the program on a thumbdrive but doesn’t know the answers to a riddle needed to open it and then some other violent dudes come trying to get it from her. And she ends up having to protect Balder’s son (Christopher Convery) – long story.

She’s skinny and they’re killers but she outsmarts and out-toughs anybody that comes after her. She leaps away from explosions, breaks into high security areas, uses surveillance systems to figure things out. When the Swedish Security Service arrests Needham for interfering with their business she busts him out and forces him to take care of the kid. So he’s sort of her Felix Sater in my opinion. Stanfield seems like strange casting for an NSA agent at first, but we learn that he’s a legendary hacker who started working for the government – you know, like BLACKHAT – and then it kinda makes more sense that he’s an oddball. Doesn’t stop him from using a sniper rifle though.

Also in Lisbeth’s corner: her hacker pal Plague (Cameron Britton, Mindhunter), who backs her up in his hacker van, and of course her sometimes lover, the famous investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason, BORG VS McENROE) of Millennium magazine. Poor Gudnason is a few years younger than either Nyqvist or Craig were and much more of a traditional pretty boy. It’s an unfair position to be put into, to replace fuckin Daniel Craig when you’re a regular human, so it’s lucky that the character is a little less central to the story this time.

In my review of Alvarez’s last film, DON’T BREATHE, I tried to describe the moment I realized I loved the movie during a suspense sequence of DePalmian complexity. In SPIDER’S WEB I’d say that was somewhere during the long sequence where she gets injected with a tranquilizer and, though barely able to move, manages to snort amphetamines and then not only drive a stolen police car at high speeds while impaired, but also zero in on her prey using security camera footage, police databases, GPS and the hacking of an onboard computer system.

When Lisbeth is on the run from both killers and law enforcement, she steals a badass black Lamborghini (the kid’s choice) and moves into an abandoned geodesic dome. I suppose you could be the kind of person who gets mad at a movie for existing in a reality where someone would and could do that, but I’m the other kind of person. Also, I’ll just come out and say it: she has an evil sister. A twin in the book, I guess, but here she’s played by Sylvia Hoeks (Luv from BLADE RUNNER 2049). It’s been a while since I’ve seen the other ones, but I believe this ignores the revelations of part 2, because their father Alexander Zalachenko (Mikael Persbrandt, KING ARTHUR: THE LEGEND OF THE SWORD) seems to be a sicko abuser, but not necessarily a former Soviet spy who, now disfigured by Lisbeth’s molotov cocktail, runs a sex trafficking ring with her half brother, who can’t feel pain.

It seems this movie wasn’t a success, which is too bad, because I really would’ve liked to see her further adventures into the Spider’s-Web-Verse. Maybe they’ll keep trying it again with a different actress every several years.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 14th, 2019 at 9:36 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

36 Responses to “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”

  1. They treated this like a Bond movie, which was great. Too bad it flopped. I would have enjoyed more in this vein.

  2. This is the first thing that makes this movie sound like something I’d want to see. Thanks, Vern.

  3. Fincher’s TGWTDT is awful, easily his worst film (which is saying something, because PANIC ROOM exists) and just a terrible film overall, deadly boring, exploitative, vacuous, rape-excusing trash of the lowest order with a cartoonish ending that seems to come from a totally different film. I hate it so much and have never seen a coherent defense of it, despite its generally positive reception. Fuck that movie.

    Anyway, this one can’t possibly be worse.

  4. Even Fincher can’t polish a turd (Noomi Rapace over Mara). The source material is no big shakes.

    Like Vern i enjoyed Spider’s Web.

  5. grimgrinningchris

    February 14th, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    Not to be a dick, but I’m going to have to call the opinion of anyone who thinks PANIC ROOM is a bad movie… well, just not an opinion that I am likely to agree with at the end of the day.

  6. In all fairness, PANIC ROOM was Fincher’s surefire commercial movie to get some studio goodwill back, after the commercial and (back then) critical misfire of FIGHT CLUB.

    However, I don’t think it’s that bad, but I’m also the guy who really doesn’t care about most of Fincher’s output, so you shouldn’t take my opinion on this.

  7. Funny that the one movie Fincher distances himself from – ALIEN 3 – is his best work.

  8. It didn’t cost a ton of money and has probably even turned a profit by now with DVD/VOD/etc, so since the books are still popular I wouldn’t be surprised if they kept making low-to-mid budget sequels. After all we keep getting SCORPION KING movies so there’s hope for arthropod-related sequels where the main character is rarely played by the same person twice.

  9. What on Earth is going on in this comment section?

  10. Maybe Milla Jovovich could do the next one.

  11. Not too terrible an idea.

  12. Just your usual Friday banter, Shan…

  13. Foy is serviceable (though not much of a goth, she wouldn’t look that out of place picking her kid up from school in a Fiat 500 in her make-up in most of this) and the guy playing Blomkvist is bland and just doesn’t have the weight and gravitas the role needs IMO. He looks like an E! reporter more than anything.

    The thing that shifted it from a standard miscast to an infuriating missed opportunity is the two perfect – and i mean genuinely perfect – people for either roles are stuck in the supporting cast. Hoeks would’ve been a phenomenal, threatening, Lisbeth and Claes Bang would’ve been perfect for Blomkvist. I think either could’ve given the definitive take on the role, sad that didn’t happen.

  14. I really think that Vern should see Bloodsport IV because I think he would be one of three people that like it and maybe convince more of you to see it.

  15. I watched it on your recommendation and enjoyed it. I particularly liked that the bad guy’s name was Shrek and they kept him in a cage with a green light. The jokes wrote themselves.

  16. Vern I have to say, I think you are starting to “go soft” on us. There is a serious lack of mid budget anything these days (action, thriller, sci-fi) and you can only have one John wick or Raid every X number of years. But that is no reason to start going easy on the dreck that comes out!
    For me, this movie is in that dreaded category of “not good enough, not bad enough”. From its first minute, my mind juxtaposes it to to the Finches one and the comparison does not do it any favours. I am really surprised with so many of the commenters liking it and even more so for the people that actively dislike the Finches one! Is it “opposites day”? Or as someone else said earlier on the comments, “What on Earth is going on in this comment section?”

  17. “Not good enough, not bad enough” describes about 80% of the movies out there. Only about 10% are either really great or 10% are the worst movies. Most movies are average, if you think about it.

  18. If PANIC ROOM was the low budget first effort by some unknown filmmaker I’d be much kinder to it. It’s a serviceable, if dumb, thriller, but none of the characters have any kind of weight or depth or developed backstory and, at the end, nobody has changed or learned anything so the story is entirely inconsequential. Also it all seems to take place in a dull, greenish-gray rape basement with limited visual appeal, but that’s Fincher for you.

  19. “at the end, nobody has changed or learned anything so the story is entirely inconsequential”

    It is a story about a mother and daughter who try to survive a home invasion while being trapped in a room that might not be as safe as it is supposed to be. What do you want them to learn? That the real home invaders were inside their hearts all along?

  20. Yeah, I was interested enough in the pedigree, but I found the trailers off-putting. Something about taking a franchise centered around sex crimes and child abuse and turning it into Batman (or James Bond, if you rather, but I think they even had a shot of Lisbeth standing on top of a building, overlooking HER CITY). Maybe I’d feel the same way if this were the sixties and I heard someone was turning the books that started out with James Bond having his dick tortured and his girlfriend commit suicide into a series about secret volcano lairs, but at the end of the day, I didn’t feel like grappling with Moviepass to see it. Maybe if it shows up on Netflix, I’ll put it in my queue and forget about it for a year and a half before really liking it when I do watch it.

  21. grimgrinningchris

    February 15th, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    What CJ Holden said.

    Fincher delivered, in PANIC ROOM, a super solid , pacing of a freight train home invasion thriller with a pair of sympathetic, if not terribly dynamic, protagonists- made moreso by being a smart (even though making mistakes in the face of danger) and capable mother/daughter team. We had antagonists that were 1) a guilty good guy roped into a bad scene out of desperation, a sickening obnoxious and entitled piece of shit jilted rich boy and a near blank slate- evil incarnate MONSTER in Dwight Yoakum’s Raoul.

    Not sure what actual character development or growth anyone is looking for in a home invasion movie that largely takes place over the course of just a few hours in a single location… aside from Whitaker’s zero hour “I didn’t want to do this in the first place and now it really has gone way too far” attempt to redeem himself.

    While I still liked his GWTDT, I do agree that it is in the lower third of his filmography… but I will take the taut simplicity of PANIC ROOM over its bloat and melodrama any day.

  22. Bellweather: I feel like you’re talking more about the original DRAGON TATTOO movie than Fincher’s, especially regarding the ending. In comparison I feel Fincher’s version is more grounded and ironically less “Hollywood” than the previous movie, which this movie doesn’t feel too far from with regards to what I’ve read about it.

    I think Sony would have had better luck making the books into a cable show.

  23. VERN!!


    Triple Threat trailer OUT!

    Can it be?? Could this movie live up to this trailer??

  24. After the Debt Collectors I worry about Jesse Johnson so hopefully this is simple basic and exciting movie.

  25. Yeah, me too. I worry that this Jesse Johnson guy has gotten too good and Isaac Florentine might need to watch his back.

  26. I hated the Debt Collectors a lot.

  27. How can anyone hate THE DEBT COLLECTOR?

  28. Well you found one who didn’t like anything in it.

  29. (Unsolved Mysteries theme)

  30. Wait… a Fede Alvarez movie is *less* rapey? Because, I consider his directorial signature to be uncomfortable and gratuitous rape scenes.

  31. Nice work, as always. The only sticking point i have w/ the review is “men, women and… a trans woman”. I understand where youre coming from in specifying here but I can’t help but think it puts us as a separate category than women.
    Im not trying to give you shit for it and Im aware that Im being sensitive. It’s just a case where I think its better to say what I feel, even without any solution because I don’t think you did anything “wrong”. But I hope maybe that this feeling

  32. Nice work, as always. The only sticking point i have w/ the review is “men, women and… a trans woman”. I understand where youre coming from in specifying here but I can’t help but think it puts us as a separate category than women.
    Im not trying to give you shit for it and Im aware that Im being sensitive. It’s just a case where I think its better to say what I feel, even without any solution because I don’t think you did anything “wrong”. But I hope maybe that this feeling will reach you and affect some change, whatever that looks like.

  33. Hey, this one was pretty good. I avoided all the other iterations of this saga because they didn’t really seem like my thing. I tend to avoid translated books because I’m kind of a snob about prose and I think the poetry of the language gets lost in translation, and in any case I firmly believe that you don’t need 700 pages to tell the first third of a crime thriller story if you know what you’re doing. (Also, I don’t judge books by their covers but I do judge them by their first sentences. GWTDT’s first line was about fonts. I passed.) So since I couldn’t get onboard the phenomenon from the beginning, I skipped the other movies, which, frankly, seemed like an icky mix of victim fetishism and male midlife crisis wish fulfillment to me, especially the one with Daniel Craig, whose aura of rugged sex appeal I’m sorry to say has been utterly tainted for me ever since SKYFALL. I think of that revolting scene where Moneypenny sits on his lap and shaves him and I feel nauseous. Seriously, that might be the grossest scene in modern cinema. I’ve found him vaguely repulsive ever since.

    But I digress. None of that shit is in this version, which is just some badass hard boiled vigilante revenge shit with no chaser. I love that the dingus from Generic Magazine: The Magazine Magazine gets put on damsel duty for the whole movie, when he’s not the designated babysitter. The lead character is great, just utterly unconcerned with being your fucking fetish object. She’s constantly underestimated by dumb motherfuckers who keep putting her down but not taking her out, and she keeps making them regret that. That’s my favorite kind of hero, the kind who wins the day by bleeding out just a little slower than their opponent thinks they will. And thanks to some deft suspense chops, a fleet but not flyaway pace, and an appealingly offbeat cast of characters, it’s a movie worthy of such an interesting heroine.

    Of course I jump onboard the international phenomenon just as it’s coming to a close, but even if this one is just a one-off, I’m glad I finally got to see what all the fuss was about.

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