Book-to-film adaptations are treacherous waters at the best of times, and “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” has the unique position of being an adaption of an adaption.
The film follows Lizbeth Salandar, a Swedish punk and hacker, and her entanglement in a race for a computer program capable of accessing the defense systems of the world. She’s commissioned by the program’s creator to steal it from the NSA, but once Lizbeth does so, she becomes the target of a criminal ring determined to have the program.
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” directed by Fede Alvarez, (“Evil Dead,” “Don’t Breathe”) stars Claire Foy (“The Crown,” “First Man”) as the complicated Swedish hacker Lizbeth Salander and Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason (“Borg vs McEnroe,” “Waltz for Monica”) as the brooding journalist Mikael Blomkvist.
Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson wrote the three crime thrillers comprising the “Millennium” series — “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” All three books were released posthumously, after Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004 at the age of 50. Since its release in 2005, the “Millennium” series has seen two authors and, now, three directors.
The series was picked up by fellow Swedish writer David Lagercrantz. Lagercrantz wrote “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” and “The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye,” which continue the story of Lizbeth and Mikael.
The series received worldwide popularity and was adapted into films in Sweden and the U.S., with David Fincher (“Gone Girl,” “Fight Club”) directing “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011). Fincher’s dark film was headed by Rooney Mara (“Carol, “The Social Network”) as Lizbeth and Daniel Craig (“Skyfall, “Casino Royale”) as Mikael. “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” features an entirely new cast, separating itself from the previous film.
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” opens with a man strolling around his fashionable apartment, spinning an apology to his wife for an outburst of anger. As the camera pans, his wife is seen beaten, bloody and shaken on the ground. The power goes out and, as it comes back on, a small woman with short black hair and white painted eyes appears. This is the audience’s first sighting of Lizbeth.
The central pillar of Lizbeth’s character is her deep-rooted hatred of men who abuse women. This rage comes down in full force on this man and she strings him up by his feet and tells him she’s transferring money out of his bank account to his wife and other women he’s abused.
The opening scene is a good introduction to Lizbeth’s demeanor. Her sense of justice is paired with God-like hacking skills and a willingness to get her hands dirty.
To the viewer, this movie feels less like a spun web and more like a string tugging them along.
The film was an incredibly uncomplicated work with every action and plot point being spelled out for audiences as it happened. It lacked character depth due to the extremely sparse dialog. When the characters did communicate, it was always to explain what was going on in the plot, rather than what was going on with themselves.
The film was carried along by predictable action which zapped all tension from the experience. Lizbeth isn’t caught in anyone’s web — she’s dealing with a troublesome inconvenience solved through simple, obvious steps.
Another issue with the film lies within the characters’ portrayal and development. Foy, whose previous work included playing the Queen of England in the Netflix original series “The Crown,” was an interesting choice for the role of a reclusive, abused Swedish punk.
The stark difference between her portrayal and Mara’s is obvious through outward appearances alone. Mara’s Lizbeth is an emaciated, heavily tattooed girl whose slight figure brought forth an important part of her character’s vulnerability. Foy is a safe Lizbeth with minimal tattooing, a normal haircut and a more personable attitude.
Lizbeth is a deeply complicated character, yet, in this film, she’s portrayed as simplified and safe.
Lizbeth’s counterpart, Mikael, is also a bit of a disappointment. From a role standpoint, he’s reduced from a main character to someone Lizbeth called for help once in a while. All of his cunning and tumultuous relationships are boiled down to his portrayal as an inconsequential pretty boy. Gudnason brought a handsome, young face to a character that called for neither.
Despite the film’s major flaws, it still succeeded in some aspects. It had strong cinematography and the shots were well structured with obvious motifs running throughout the film. It was also entertaining. The movie didn’t bore, it just failed to truly move audiences.
Fans of Larsson’s books might feel similarly to this film as they did toward Lagercrantz’s continuation of the series. It brings to life characters that could’ve been contained to only three books.
Even if it wasn’t a great adaption, watching books and their characters come alive is still a fulfilling experience.
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” rated R, is out now and playing in theaters nationwide.