There are so many great elements at work in The Girl in the Spider’s Web that it is just beyond disappointing that it falls apart as a film. I really, really wanted to like this one because I am so on board with the vigilante female comic book hero that it isn’t even funny. “But Steve,” you would say, if my name were Steve, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web isn’t based on a comic book.” To which I would reply that you’re right, it isn’t. But let’s talk for a minute about what it is…
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a film adaptation of a novel commissioned by the publisher of author Stieg Larsson’s Millenium novel series which started with The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. The Millenium crime novels were all published posthumously after the death of Stieg Larsson and rose to rather astounding fame as the books struck a chord with a passionate audience. They were shortly followed by a film trilogy starring Noomi Rapace, the first of which was later remade in the US by David Fincher. And… you might be wondering exactly what you’d get from a story which was commissioned in those circumstances. What do you get from an unrelated author 8 years after the fact?
Well, it turns out you get something that very superficially captures an impressionist’s view of a character. If you watched the trailer from before, it’s important to note that the first part of that trailer is a near uncut excerpt of the opening of the film in which a wife beater is captured by the protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, after magically appearing in his home before she magically tears him to financial ruin by giving away all his money to the women he has wronged. This scene is reflective of the entire film… if you can turn off your brain completely it is visually impressive and emotionally satisfying. But how did she hack his bank accounts? How did she get in his home? Why do we care about any of the characters in this scene that don’t already have decades of history and multiple films from iconic directors trying to chisel them from nothing?
If you cannot help but ask yourself those questions, then this film will leave you disappointed all the way through because the film will not give satisfactory answers to any of them. It doesn’t care how it gets from point A to point B, or the character motivations. The story is predictable in its plot construction with absolute junk for its connective tissue. No one who made this movie seems to have any interest how you get the main character from beginning to end so long as it looks cool while they’re doing it. Computers are treated as if they are magic and all of the characters in the film exist merely as plot devices. The nuanced character of Lisbeth Salander is functionally transformed into Batman. She even likes to disappear mid-conversation as though she were talking to Commissioner Gordon.
That’s what I mean when I call this a comic book movie. The reduction of Lisbeth Salander to an underground vigilante hero who fights alone and vanishes into the night with no one to love and no one who can truly love her is… frankly more at home in the mid-90s between Batman Returns and Spawn. For those of you thinking that this isn’t entirely a bad thing, I’m inclined to agree with you. I am so on board with a female dark knight of avenging justice that I desperately want to see a film like this work. We also had Peppermint earlier this year, which was also a trainwreck, though for entirely different reasons. This just isn’t it. At least it’s better than Peppermint, though.
And, if you can get past a movie that is 100% superficially invested in delivering that experience, you’ll probably be able to enjoy it. But the original works were rich and thoughtful crime dramas that were invested in suspending disbelief. They worked hard to give motive to every event, and tie the structure of their stories together with motivation as Lisbeth moved from scene to scene. They cared that Lisbeth used realistic computer exploits and believable social engineering to accomplish her goals. If you can be happy with characters and stories that have been robbed of all depth, then, there is something here for you.
Claire Foy acts her heart out as Lisbeth and captures the cold but constantly thinking demeanor of the character. No one else in the film even comes close to Claire’s performance. None of the actors are bad, they all do fine, but Claire is an absolute standout. On top of a perfectly acceptable cast of actors working competently, you also have excellent cinematography that crushes it with beautiful scenes. The action, while not spectacular, is still thrilling and fun to watch.
Unfortunately, there’s no thematic depth to the scene construction. Nothing to make you re-examine any of the events in the film. Everything is so morally unambiguous and flimsy that you never doubt anything at all. All that action and all those beautiful frame compositions are usually ruined by the director’s total lack of appreciation for the simplest details about how to move the story forward.
I know I sound extremely negative even though there really is a movie here that a lot of people will be able to enjoy. Part of it is because the use of computers as deus ex machina is a personal pet peeve of mine. Part of it is because I need a good reason to not care about plot construction and mediocre action is not a good enough reason. We deserve better as an audience.
The worst part about The Girl in the Spider’s Web isn’t just that it’s bad. It’s that the writers and directors had everything they needed to make something great: an amazing concept, a beautifully rich and nuanced character, a history of writers and directors who got it right, and then they got it wrong because they just didn’t care enough about anything. And if they don’t care, then why should you?
If you have a choice, watch something better. Even if you are able to enjoy The Girl in the Spider’s Web, there are more satisfying things you can spend your time on. Like sitting quietly alone in the dark. It’s not as entertaining, but you won’t feel so completely disappointed by what it could have been.
|Visually acceptable with solid acting, but complete garbage for storytelling.