Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.
Who Was Almost 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'?
What exactly happened is still unclear, but for some reason, a decision was made to skip book 2 and 3 and go straight to the fourth, written by David Lagercrantz after original author Stieg Larsson had died. Fincher (no stranger to studio indecisiveness since Alien 3) and his cast probably skipped town after that, so the studio decided (or had no other choice than) to do a "soft reboot" with a new cast and crew. And that didn't go flawlessly.
Fede Alvarez, the guy who made it rain blood in the Evil Dead remake, didn't exactly sound like the logical choice as director; then again, neither did Peter Jackson for Lord of the Rings. And Alvarez also made Don't Breathe, where he didn't shy away from an insane and dark twist at the end. Being originally a non-Hollywood director, he could have brought some unique sensibilities to the table. But alas, it wasn't meant to be, because The Girl in the Spider's Web just got the Hollywood treatment, and not in all the good ways.
Gone is the deliberately slow pace that gave ample opportunities for character development and world building. Where the previous movies fully integrated the Swedish environments into the storytelling as a character in itself, they are now mostly relegated to being extras. There is nice photography and some photogenic locations, but they feature mostly in brief establishing shots or as background (with the exception of one nice setpiece involving a vertical-lift bridge). Partially to blame are the film's excessive pacing and action, which leave little time to linger on the locale. Apparently, the makers thought it necessary to beef up the story with fast-edited, Bourne-like action and slick explosions. Now admittedly, it looks good on screen, but this is not necessarily the film for it, because the plot and characterizations noticeably suffer from this need to keep things constantly in motion.
The story feels kind of familiar: Lisbeth Salander agrees to help a client, but powerful criminals interfere and set her up for murder, making her intent on getting the perpetrators and staying out of the hands of the authorities. If you thought this sounds like The Girl Who Played With Fire (book 2), then the appearance of an unstoppable muscular blond guy will not be too surprising either. The problem, however, is that the thin plot comprises little more than everyone chasing a technological McGuffin. If it isn't easy enough to shoot holes in such a premise, the implausibilities and coincidences pile up throughout the story, like people with selective memories, and police cars that can conveniently track and control a random car by GPS. Towards the end, the movie starts to rely more and more on high-tech gadgets that belong in a James Bond or Mission Impossible movie. Granted, it makes for some pleasing action scenes, but it removes much of the vulnerability and humanity that the previous films were famous for.
The most unfortunate consequence of all that plot-driven storytelling and blockbuster treatment is that the characters remain so underdeveloped. Claire Foy is adequate as Lisbeth Salander, although her performance doesn't feel as lived-in as Rooney Mara's and definitely not as Noomi Rapace's (who got way too little credit for it). We are well aware of Lisbeth's capability to stand her ground, and seeing her take on a bunch of henchmen incidentally is always a joy. But re-inventing her as an action hero was a mistake, because it takes away from what makes her most interesting: a woman with a brilliant intellect and survival skills, trapped inside an antisocial mindset.
A bigger victim is Sverrir Gudnason as Michael Blomkvist: a seasoned veteran and determined, complex man in the previous films, he has been reimagined as an insecure rookie, hardly getting anything more meaningful to do than advance the plot when the script calls for it; everything that could have rounded his character more (like the situation at his work, his relation with Lisbeth or his affaire with a colleague) is immediately cut short.
But the shortest end of the stick goes to my fellow Dutchie Sylvia Hoeks, who was an adequate bad girl in Blade Runner 2049. Here, her character gets a minimum of motivation and some Freudian flashbacks to justify a ridiculous scheme that hardly makes any sense. So much more could have been done with her character other than filling the role of one-dimensional Bond villain.
In all fairness, director Alvarez and his fellow screenwriters incidentally find the right tone. The first scene between Lisbeth and Michael is both appropriately awkward and visually appealing; there is a nice and suspenseful scene on a bridge, and an airport scene where the fast editing and Lisbeth's inventiveness are used to great effect. Lakeith Stanfield of Get Out fame has one of the more grateful roles as an American NSA agent who will either be a burden or a an asset, something that plays out quite satisfactorily. And despite overrelying on technology, the climax is well executed, and at least better than the almost laughable final confrontation.
To summarize, this reboot has its moments, but unfortunately turns out as an overproduced and too well-polished action-thriller, where a slow-paced, raw drama-thriller would have been more effective. Especially with such strong characters that we have come to love over the years. Let's hope that the reverse will happen here, and the Swedes re-adapt the book on their own terms in the future.
- Nov 8, 2018