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The Girl in the Spider’s Web movie review: Claire Foy’s Dragon Tattoo needs laser removal

The Girl in the Spider’s Web movie review: Director Fede Alvarez’s version of Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo pales in comparison to earlier adaptations, despite Claire Foy. Rating: 2/5.

hollywood Updated: Nov 23, 2018 10:36 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
The Girl in the Spider’s Web,The Girl in the Spider’s Web Review,The Girl in the Spider’s Web Movie Review
The Girl in the Spider’s Web movie review: Claire Foy can’t successfully ditch her regal image for Fede Alvarez’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Director - Fede Alvarez
Cast - Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, LaKeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, Claes Bang
Rating - 2/5

The best way to sum up the thought process that presumably went into making The Girl in the Spider’s Web is to direct your attention to the film’s title. Such is the lack of respect that the studio has for you, the paying audience, that it felt the need to add ‘A New Dragon Tattoo Story’ to the movie’s already lengthy name, just to be sure that you, an idiot, don’t think it is some documentary about insects.

Shockingly, this isn’t a new practice. Adding clunky subtitles became a trend among the surge of young adult franchises that flooded the market a few years ago, franchises such as The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games and The Divergent Series. Curiously, The Dark Knight made a billion dollars despite not having the word ‘Batman’ in its title. Fantastic Beasts did almost $900 million without resorting to calling itself Harry Potter and the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Watch the Girl in the Spider’s Web trailer here

It’s one thing for studios to have no faith in the teenage crowds towards whom these films were targeted, but Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series of novels are the definition of dad literature. They’re also immensely popular, having sold close to 100 million copies in about a decade. And The Girl in the Spider’s Web is, keep in mind, the fifth film in the series. All this is to say that if the studio still has doubts as to the commercial viability of stories about Lisbeth Salander, then it’s more on them than on us.

They’re justified in being nervous, however. The common consensus is that David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - a stone-cold masterpiece, in my opinion - cost too much and made too little. Fincher was given unprecedented creative control on the project, including over its marketing - it was Fincher who insisted on the tagline, ‘The feel bad movie of Christmas’, and it was he who cut that brilliant trailer.

But since nothing is sacred in the movie business - remember, this is the same industry that chewed out Orson Welles - they decided to continue anyway, with a new cast and a new director, but not enough courage to ditch the Dragon Tattoo brand name.

Claire Foy has very few lines of dialogue in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

Director Fede Alvarez isn’t the most obvious choice for the job. But for a Uruguayan filmmaker to be handpicked to tell such a quintessentially Swedish story opens up several possibilities - possibilities that, unfortunately for Alvarez, Fincher had already dissected with lurid glee in his film.

This has left Alvarez with nothing worthwhile to say about either Lisbeth or her Sweden. Gone is the vulnerability that Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara brought to the character - easily one of the 21st century’s most admired feminist heroines - and gone is the cultural subtext that Fincher buried beneath his icy version, in which Sweden’s historically non-confrontational nature was mined for dormant emotions.

Director Fede Alvarez interprets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a superhero story.

Instead, The Girl in the Spider’s Web tells a rather generic story, with neither the flair nor the ambition of previous adaptations. While the stark white snow served as such a chilling backdrop in Fincher’s movie, Alvarez for some reason sets most of his indoors - in the dingy lairs of overweight hackers, inside homes that look like IKEA catalogues, and in Lisbeth’s own industrial hideout.

On paper, for Alvarez to sign on to direct The Girl in the Spider’s Web looked like a canny career move. Despite costing half as much as Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo, it’s still more than twice as expensive as anything Alvarez has ever done. It was a sharp decision, one that could ideally have made him a contender for a Bond movie or a Marvel film in the future. But sadly, the overwhelming sense of mediocrity of this film will negate whatever goodwill Don’t Breathe won for him.

In that terrific 2016 thriller, Alvarez displayed natural talent that few other directors working in genre cinema today have. His absolute control over Don’t Breathe reminded me of something a young M Night Shayamalan might have made. The Girl in the Spider’s Web reminds me of a middling Liam Neeson film.

Claire Foy as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

It’s made neither for the fans of Larsson’s source novels, nor for casual moviegoers looking for a fun time. And if that dumb title is any indication - it is, you guys - then you’d already have a fair idea as to the depth it is willing to go into. Which is sad, because Lisbeth is an endlessly fascinating character, open to interpretation, the blank slate that she is.

While Fincher saw this as an opportunity to project onto Lisbeth his own nutty sensibilities - who can forget that silent shot of her eating a McDonald’s Happy Meal? - Alvarez makes her into a Batman-like figure. His film, meanwhile, resembles the countless vigilante thrillers that arrive and fade away from our memories every year - films such as The Equalizer 2, Peppermint, and Death Wish, just this year.

The imagery is strong in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

It doesn’t help that Claire Foy’s central performance is rather one note - she glowers and scowls, without a shade of personality. Adequate screen time is devoted to her back story, which should ideally have reflected in her performance, but like the poor decision to spoil the film’s biggest twist in the trailers, Foy chooses to portray Lisbeth more like an action heroine than a wounded human being, betrayed and abused by nearly everyone she meets.

Sverrir Gudnason, who was so strong in Borg vs McEnroe, barely registers here as Mikael Blomkvist, played previously by the late, great Michael Nyqvist and hale and hearty Daniel Craig - perhaps because a plot involving mercenaries and shady organisations has no place for a journalist, anyway?

But it does have room for silent henchmen and bland car chases, threatening phone calls and soap opera level plot twists. If you’re into that and enjoy being in an air-conditioned environment, then by all means, submit yourself to its web of deceit. But remember, a venomous sting is what awaits you.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Nov 23, 2018 08:31 IST