The Girl in the Spider’s Web is so bad, it’s borderline offensive

A great cast and one of the coolest female-led franchises are done a huge disservice in the new Dragon Tattoo film.

Claire Foy in The Girl in the Spider’s Web

As happy as we should be that the coolest female-led franchise has a new entry, which potentially means that we might have another, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a complete dud.

Claire Foy steps into Rooney Mara’s shoes as Lisbeth Salander, everyone’s favourite bisexual autistic cyberpunk hacker. This time she’s hired by Stephen Merchant (a true beanstalk of a man) to hack the NSA and steal back his computer program that would give the owner access to all the nuclear weapons in the world. Most of the movie is a race between Lisbeth, an NSA agent and the Swedish government to get the program back from a criminal organization called the Spiders.

This story is also intertwined with a cold open flashback to Lisbeth’s youth where we learn she had a sister. The two girls are victimized by their psychopathic father who, after a sexy session with an unnamed tattoed women, decides his preteen daughters are old enough to initiate into the world of incest. The confrontation that follows is meant to be the defining moment in Lisbeth’s life, shaping her personality and her need for justice.

Without going into too many details, this sequence is poorly articulated to reflect Lisbeth’s feelings on the world. While we are plainly seeing the world from the perspective of a child, in this very adult universe, Lisbeth’s conclusions from this event are underdeveloped. As Lisbeth often serves as a kind of vengeful angel for wronged women, her past as someone who grew up in an abusive household makes sense, but her inability to understand her sister seems out of character. Her motivation ends up being strained and unbelievable, casting a heavy shadow on the film’s credibility.

Among a variety of other problems, this is likely the most significant. The movie fails to root Lisbeth’s struggle into anything coherent, and events just feel pasted together to make some middling point about family and points of view. It’s ineffective at best and borderline irresponsible at worst.

As a whodunit gotcha mystery, the film might be somewhat effective. It is unexpected but, truth be told, this is only a reflection of the symbolic and thematic poverty of the film. This movie could easily have just been a pretty shiny object if only it didn’t also defy the laws of physics and just basic storytelling decency. Some sequences are eye-rolling unbelievable, like a CGI escape over a frozen lake, and others are so needlessly complex, like a weird tin-can CGI glass elevator reunion scene, that it’s hard to not be exasperated. The movie also has some rather substantial plot holes that come rearing in the final act.

The cast is distractingly good, though they are done absolutely no service in the film. Along with Claire Foy who steps into Lisbeth’s shoes, we have Lakeith Stanfield, Vicky Krieps (Alma from Phantom Thread) and Cameron Britton (Ed Kemper from Mindhunter). Even the supporting or bit cast has a lot of oomph, and the whole universe feels cultivated with these compelling pseudo-futuristic faces and personalities. The film’s structure and general shooting style don’t care about their inner worlds, or even connecting them to the greater mythos. Their presence and the whole movie feels like a second-rate video game cut-scene at best. Kudos to the casting director for assembling such an interesting array of faces, shame on everyone who let that go to waste.

Amidst all the narrative flubs and the ultimate failure to tie them to a coherent thematic thread, the movie is just dull. You never quite care about what is unfolding and as the stakes are raised, there is no sense of tension that rises with it. As someone who enjoys the wintry universe of Lisbeth Salander, in spite of its inherent silliness, it is a shame this one is such a huge freefall into mediocrity. ■

The Girl In The Spider’s Web opens in theatres on Friday, Nov. 9. Watch the trailer here: