It's been a decade since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was first published in English, and eight years since the first attempt at an American adaptation of the characters created by Steig Larsson. In that time, Larsson has passed away and the responsibility of writing future stories for Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist has passed to another. Now, the first of those novels, The Girl in the Spider's Web, has received its own adaptation, and it turns out a lot more than just the cast has changed.
The degree to which the tone has changed is clear from the outset. Our opening sequence sees a man having assaulted his wife, clearly not for the first time, after having just beaten the rap for assault on two others. The lights in the apartment go out, and when they return, Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) is there, as if from nowhere, like a Swedish Batman. She takes the man off his feet with a rigged up snare and proceeds to steal all his money via her hacking skills, making sure he knows she has blackmail material in case he wants to try revenge. And then, she's off into the darkness on her motorcycle.
While the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a gritty noir thriller that reviewed well, it wasn't a box office smash. It seems clear The Girl in the Spider's Web is looking to fix that problem by essentially turning this into an action franchise. Lisbeth Salander, the traumatized loner, has become a superhero vigilante. She's still a loner and the trauma is still there, but it takes a backseat to the rest. It's more "character description" than actual character. This doesn't mean The Girl in the Spider's Web isn't a worthwhile film in what it is, it just may not be what many are expecting.
The bulk of the plot deals with a former member of the NSA (Stephen Merchant) who developed a piece of software capable of hacking, well, pretty much anything. He's lost control of the software to the Americans, who he doesn't trust, so he hires Lisbeth to steal it, because luckily, this piece of software can't be copied. However, Lisbeth isn't the only one after the software, and so her stealing it sends not only the NSA after her in the form of Agent Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), but also the Norway police and a criminal syndicate known as the Spiders. Salander must turn to her old partner Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) in order to help her protect the one thing keeping the software from becoming active.
Even the plot, following a rogue piece of super hacking software, feels like something that belongs in a James Bond movie. And there are other elements that reinforce that. Outside of the always entertaining, but rarely realistic, Hollywood "hacking," the film has its supply of necessary gadgets and a supervillain with a personal connection to our hero. It's a long way from the atmospheric murder mystery that made up the bulk of the plot of Dragon Tattoo. There's really no mystery element at all in the new film. There are a couple of minor twists, one of which I spent the bulk of the movie thinking was a glaring plot hole until it gets filled in at the end as an attempt at a "reveal" moment, but even the movie doesn't make too much out of either of them.
However, once you settle in and accept the sort of movie that The Girl in the Spider's Web is going to be, it's an enjoyable adventure. The action sequences are tight and fun. One sequence in an airport where Lisbeth gets to really show off her hacking skills, is particularly well paced, just don't think too hard about how ridiculous it all is.
The supporting actors, while not given much to do, do fine with what they have. Make no mistake, The Girl in the Spider's Web is the Lisbeth Salander show, which means it's the Claire Foy show. As it turns out, Clair Foy puts on a pretty damn good show. She transforms in the role of Lisbeth and is an engaging action hero. It's true that many of Lisbeth's rougher edges, which made her an interesting and dynamic character, have been smoothed over here, and that's a shame, but seeing a woman take on a major action role like this is still a rare enough occurrence that we'll celebrate it for what it is. If we are going to get more of these, as seems to be the intention, we could do a lot worse than more Claire Foy.
Director Fede Alvarez has shown he's a capable director handling this sort of material, which will probably cause the numerous other action franchises to put him on the short list for a future job, if he wasn't there already. This isn't what we expect from the helmer of Evil Dead or Don't Breathe, though this movie does include one significant body horror moment that will probably have the more squeamish in the audience getting uncomfortable in their seats.
The Girl in the Spider's Web doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it is a better than average action adventure with a compelling lead actress. Sometimes that's all you need.