The extra half star is a generous gesture aimed at those who haven’t read the fourth instalment of the Millennium books, written by David Lagercrantz after the untimely demise of original author, Stieg Larsson. Anyone who has read the books, and particularly The Girl in the Spider’s Web, will spend much of the time caught in an internal monologue punctuated by cries of ‘Oh no!’ and ‘They’re not doing that, are they!’ and ‘You’ve got to be kidding me’.
It’s not that Claire Foy isn’t a brilliant actor, and she’ll no doubt hate to hear any review which mentions that she looks much more at home sipping Twinings tea with a few Corgis snapping at her heels – witness her fine performance as Queen Liz II in Netflix’s The Crown. She’s just not right for the role of the spiky, damaged and intimidating feminist anti-heroine, Lisbeth Salander – the woman who does very nasty things to men who do bad things to women. It’s not just Foy’s smaller stature and less angular features than the previous Lisbeths – Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara – but sometimes actors just aren’t the right type. Miscasting is miscasting.
Maybe Foy’s performance was just among the numerous missteps this film adaptation takes so that she suffers along with the rest of it when it comes to judgement. Uruguayan-born director Fede Alvarez, who’s helmed fare along the lines of horror and suspense films Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe, turns an intelligent thriller with numerous interwoven plotlines into a simplistic action movie in which car chases, explosions and slo-mo shots of Salander running take the place of what should be more important. If you wanted a James Bond movie with cardboard cut-out villains, you’d go and see a James Bond movie. (Alvarez is one of three co-writers, with Jay Basu and Stephen Knight.)
Perhaps seeing the film literally the day after I finished reading the novel was not a good move. Yes, we all know that film adaptations of literary works necessarily involve a lot of choices and cuts. You can’t expect it to be the same and it all seemed much better in your head… blah blah blah. But The Girl in the Spider’s Web diverts far from the original story very early on and invents some crazy new plotlines with some unforgivable choices that would probably make poor Stieg Larsson turn in his grave. You can’t imagine Lagercrantz would be too thrilled either.
The part of the plot that does have resemblance to the original is that genius computer hacker, Lisbeth ‘Wasp’ Salander is contacted by computer developer Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to help him hack into files that he himself created so he can steal them back from America’s NSA (National Security Agency). They give anyone who has the key to them the ‘power of God’ – in other words to easily get their hands on nukes – and Balder panics that it will get into the wrong hands. What he doesn’t count on is his young son, August (Christopher Convery) getting caught up in the evil goings-on of the evil criminals who want that power for their own evil gain. Yep, they’re evil.
When August enters the picture, it’s a moment of supreme frustration for book readers. He is supposed to be a non-communicative savant who draws with uncanny mathematical precision, thus he can pin the guy who kills his father and the other guy who beats him and his mother because he can draw them with photo-like accuracy. Instead we have a cute kid who speaks in fully formed sentences with things like, ‘Can I go home to my mom now?’ and ‘You think I’m a freak, don’t you?’ It takes missing the point of a character’s function to a whole new level.
Speaking of evil villains, Lisbeth Salander’s evil twin, Camilla, was cryptically alluded to in the Millennium trilogy but we didn’t actually meet her until Spider’s Web. That’s not a plot spoiler seeing as she’s in the trailer smiling chillingly and saying to Lisbeth, ‘Hello, sister’ or words to that effect. Sylvia Hoek is suitably malevolent as Camilla, but clad in red designer clothes from head to toe, she borders on caricature – again probably not her fault but some collateral damage being a cog in this misshapen wheel.
Admittedly, this is the first film adaptation I’ve seen of the Larsson/Lagercrantz books, precisely because I enjoyed them so much (and because there are some unpleasant things which I can read about but would rather not see) and didn’t want the memory sullied. Unfortunately, The Girl in the Spider’s Web proves the theory correct. I haven’t even mentioned Icelandic actor Sverrir Gudnason as journalist and driving force of the Millennium trilogy, Mikael Blomkvist, because he doesn’t really make much of an impression with this thin role. Nor does Lakeith Stanfield as NSA agent, Ed Needham.
Unfortunately Lisbeth Salander in this new incarnation is not compelling enough for us to really care about that much. And why we have to have English-language actors speaking in Swedish accents to denote that they are Swedish is a little strange in this day and age.
If you’re simply after an action thriller with a kick-ass heroine, chances are you’ll get what you paid for with this one. But readers of the books should be prepared for some teeth gritting.
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