Where have you gone, Lisbeth Salander? The once-ubiquitous Swedish computer-hacking heroine from books and movies hasn’t been seen on the big screen in seven years, since David Fincher’s The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo.
After watching the high-tech thriller The Girl in the Spider’s Web, you still might be asking that question. The emotionally traumatized and socially withdrawn protagonist created by the late author Stieg Larsson has now been watered down into a generic vigilante during an age of cinematic superhero overload.
This formulaic and uninspired attempt to continue the franchise probably won’t be well-received by newcomers who won’t understand what made Lisbeth so intriguing in the first place, or by fans who won’t recognize her outside of her prominent body art.
After a somewhat protracted introduction, Lisbeth (Claire Foy) is solicited by a neurotic programmer (Stephen Merchant) who has pioneered software that can threaten the world’s cybersecurity if it falls into the wrong hands — which he fears it might.
So Lisbeth and her partner and confidant, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), are enlisted to extinguish the threat. But first they need a complicated series of passwords, known only to the programmer, who mysteriously disappears, and his young son.
The resulting convoluted cat-and-mouse game involves an American security agent (Lakeith Stanfield) and other more sinister forces racing to hack into the system. As she navigates a perilous maze of deception and betrayal, Lisbeth realizes the biggest threat might lie within her own family.
Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe) makes the most of the wintry landscapes and brings some visual flair to the material, staging a handful of taut action sequences, including a tense set piece on a drawbridge.
Foy (First Man) capably handles the physicality of the role, which was played by Rooney Mara in Fincher’s film. However, the supporting characters, heroes and villains alike, aren’t given much depth.
The screenplay is adapted from a book by David Lagercrantz, who has continued Larsson’s series of Salander novels after his death. It’s a mildly intriguing cautionary tale about corporate greed and technological overreach with the threat of nuclear war in the balance. Yet there’s not much sociopolitical complexity beneath the surface, and the plot twists are generally underwhelming.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web emphasizes mainstream conformity over staying true to the character, which won’t do much do jump-start any future installments.