Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Donate today to support the journalism you rely on!

'The Girl In The Spider's Web' Struggles To Break Free Of Techno-Thriller Cliches

"Welcome to my pallor, said the spider to the fly": Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) goes beyond the pale in <em>The Girl in the Spider's Web.</em>
Sony Pictures
"Welcome to my pallor, said the spider to the fly": Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) goes beyond the pale in The Girl in the Spider's Web.

As did its predecessors, The Girl in the Spider's Web shrieks its loathing of men who hurt women. It also wails over the threatened innocence of children, emits a primal scream at sexual trauma, and howls its disgust at the endemic corruption that renders gangsters and bureaucrats essentially identical.

But the message the movie yells most loudly is, "Reboot!"

This Girl recycles as much of the formula as possible, in hope that fans of Stockholm bisexual hacker-vigilante Lisbeth Salander will accept her newly mainstreamed incarnation (played with a Swedish-ish accent by The Crown's Claire Foy). Yet the movie also shifts toward hoary spy-flick tropes, with a plot about a purloined computer program that can control all the globe's nuclear weapons. The software is called FireFall, but might as well be dubbed Skyfall.

Spider's Web is the second English-language movie derived from characters created by Stieg Larsson in his "Millennium" trilogy. All three books were adapted for the screen in the author's native Sweden, but only The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was filmed by Hollywood. After the David Fincher-directed 2011 remake was deemed a financial disappointment, the series' American owners decided to skip to the fourth published novel, penned by David Lagercrantz after Larsson's death.

Don't blame Lagercrantz for the movie's scenario, though. Scripters Fede Alvarez (who also directed), Jay Basu, and Steven Knight have significantly changed the book's story, smoothing jagged edges while adding elements familiar from dozens of multinational spy/hacker/satellite thrillers, most of them PG-13 rather than Spider's Web's kinky R. Even if you've never seen a Dragon Tattoo movie, you've seen most of this one before.

Salander is still a feral loner and omniscient hacker who smokes a lot, rocks an Italian motorcycle, and dresses all in punky black. She plunders computers for money, and dispenses rough justice pro bono. After a prologue set in her tortured girlhood, the adult Salander is introduced while pummeling a wife-beater — and his bank account.

Then it's on to the main event, which reintroduces Salander to her journalist ally and sometime lover, Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason, slimmer, younger, and blander than the Swedish actor who originated the part). They team up to find Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), a Swedish former NSA programmer who's returned to an English-speaking Stockholm with his young math-savant son (Christopher Convery). Balder coded FireFall, the program everyone wants.

The most significant of those everyones are Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield) and a mysterious red-clad blonde villain (Sylvia Hoeks) who emerges from Salander's ink-black past. He's an American NSA computer wizard who also boasts the battle skills of a special-forces operative. She's the ruthless boss of a gang of Russo-Scandinavian thugs known as the Spiders and also — well, you can probably guess, but it's supposed to be a surprise.

The action is brisk enough for, say, a Lara Croft movie, and is jolted occasionally by the sort of baroque sadism the original trilogy so relished. There are explosions, chase scenes, and multiple druggings, as well as a few hair-raising laptop downloads.

Alvarez amuses himself — and the movie's more visually oriented viewers — with multiple rhyming scenes. Falls, fires, spiders, and chess games all recur. If this twinning gambit is more playful than profound, it suits a movie that's both narratively and conceptually repetitive.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Mark Jenkins reviews movies for, as well as for, which covers the Washington, D.C., film scene with an emphasis on art, foreign and repertory cinema.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.