“The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” the latest crime thriller to try to make Swedish hacker supreme Lisbeth Salander a cinematic thing in the States, tries to be Batman and have its James Bond, too.
Bedecked in piercings, impressive ink and punk-rock attitude, Claire Foy is definitely the cool kids’ pick for the resident girl with the dragon tattoo in “Spider’s Web” (★★½ out of four; rated R; in theaters nationwide Friday). The latest in the movie versions of the Millennium book series (begun by Stieg Larsson and, after his death, continued by David Lagercrantz) makes for an entertaining dose of international intrigue. But it’s also filled with over-the-top action sequences that even 007 would find bloody ridiculous and a convoluted narrative involving masked gangsters, American intelligence and a backstory that does its enigmatic heroine a disservice by demystifying her.
Foy’s version of Lisbeth – preceded by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish film franchise and, most notably for American audiences, by Rooney Mara in David Fincher’s one-and-done “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – is pretty much the female Dark Knight of Stockholm. Clad in a hoodie with eye makeup creating a faux superhero mask, she zooms around on her Ducati righting wrongs and saving women from bad men. She’s a vigilante with essentially no alter ego, but Lisbeth is still a puzzle to those who know her intimately.
She also takes on “impossible” cases, including her latest: Lisbeth is hired by a computer programmer (Stephen Merchant) to steal a software program called “Project Firefall” (which, come on, sounds like a lost Bond flick) that the National Security Agency nabbed from him, which allows a user to control global nuclear defense systems. Lisbeth downloads it to her trusty laptop but is ambushed by shadowy thugs called the Spiders, who want to use Firefall for their own ruthless purposes.
Lisbeth enlists the help of journalist pal Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), who built his reputation working with (and writing about) her. NSA operative Ed Needham (Lakeith Stanfield) flies over from America and gets involved in the cat-and-mouse chase, and the appearance of Lisbeth’s long-lost sister, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), roils a ton of hard feelings from the Salander family’s past.
Director Fede Alvarez (“Don’t Breathe”) adds a creepy dash of horror to the narrative while emphasizing the film’s European flair as Lisbeth’s quest takes her from the neon lights of underground clubs to the freezing cold of her mountainous childhood home. It not only feels like a Bond film in that way but also borrows its action aesthetic: You have to suspend a whole lot of belief, like when a huge explosion in Lisbeth’s apartment takes out the entire building, but she’s inexplicably OK simply by jumping into a water-filled tub in time. (Her pet lizard also is hard to kill.)
Unlike Fincher’s stylish and superb 2011 “Dragon Tattoo,” which focused equally on Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth, “Spider’s Web” makes the reporter a sidekick character but rubs a little too much of the mystery off Lisbeth. To her credit, Foy gives her a default cold demeanor and businesslike drive that is nicely upended later on when things do get personal.
So at least we have a winning Lisbeth. Now let’s put her in a situation that’s all her own and not just a placemark for a caped crusader or a dapper secret agent.
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