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The Girl in the Spider’s Web: Claire Foy Saves This Run of the Mill Thriller

Girl in the Spider's Web
Photo Credit: Reiner Bajo

Written by Michael Vacchiano


Please forgive the cheesy Footloose reference, but it bears mentioning that The Girl in the Spider’s Web’s lead actress Claire Foy is the primary reason, if not the only reason, to check out the latest entry in the Dragon Tattoo saga.

While this is the first American-made movie in the series to follow The Girl with the Dragon TattooDavid Fincher’s dark yet beloved 2011 film, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is the fourth story in the Millennium book series. [There were also three Lisbeth Salander films produced in Sweden starring Noomi Rapace]. Originally written by the late Swedish novelist and journalist, Stieg Larsson, the books have been certified bestsellers due to their mix of thrilling mystery and mature subject matter. However, if you ask any fan of the books (yours truly included), they’ll tell you that the story’s leading lady is undoubtedly its biggest draw.

Having just won an Emmy for her stellar work on the Netflix series, The Crown, Foy dives head first into the role of cyberpunk anti-hero Lisbeth Salander. Brilliant yet misanthropic, Lisbeth spends her time working as a freelance private investigator for huge corporations in the Stockholm business world. Armed with unparalleled computer skills and an eidetic memory, she gets hired by these companies to hack into high-security systems to protect themselves—and to gain advantages on their competitors, of course.

However, it is Lisbeth’s moonlighting activities that are on full display in the film’s intense opening scene, when she confronts a wealthy, corrupt businessman. Sporting her trademark hoodie, piercings and body ink, she assumes her role as an “angel avenger” of sorts by assaulting and blackmailing the abusive husband and father en route to liberating his wife and daughter.

She follows up by electronically distributing the bulk of his money towards all the battered women who he’s hurt. Lisbeth plays her part as a vigilante to menacing effect, righting the wrongs and punishing those who’ve been above the law. Kind of like The Caped Crusader with a crop cut, if you will.

Did I mention Claire Foy absolutely kills this role? Lisbeth is an outcast with a troubled past who rarely interacts with those around her, and Foy’s ability as an actress to show her emotions with just her eyes and face are put to excellent use. However, her anti-social behavior is blended with a hefty dose of badass-ery. Whether it’s kicking a one-night-stand out of bed to get some work done or refusing help to superglue a bullet wound shut, she is never concerned with being liked or admired. Lisbeth’s tough and hardened exterior surrounds a haunted emotional core, and Foy understands and inhabits who her character is to a T to create an incredible performance.

Lisbeth’s latest assignment, however, is on a truly global level. She is approached by NSA worker Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), who claims to have stumbled upon a multinational conspiracy involving the theft and distribution of nuclear weapons. After accepting Balder’s request for help, Lisbeth soon finds herself becoming a target of not only the local authorities but of the criminal underworld as well.

She also attracts the attention of Ed Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), an NSA agent from Washington, D.C. who suspects her of being involved in said conspiracy and travels to Sweden in hot pursuit. Lisbeth immediately goes from vigilante hero to wanted fugitive and must now seek the help of her only friend: investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), her former lover and partner.

The supporting performances are fine, as the previously mentioned characters are fairly standard place-fillers for this type of story. Fans of Merchant (The OfficeLogan) and Stanfield (AtlantaGet Out) will enjoy seeing them, but nothing they do here is extraordinary as they’re not given much to do. The same goes for Gudnason (Borg vs McEnroe), who unfortunately doesn’t have the same chemistry with Foy that Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara had in Fincher’s film. Granted, Blomkvist acts more as Lisbeth’s sidekick than partner this time around.

The biggest standout amongst the supporting cast is Sylvia Hoeks as Camilla, who leads the Russian crime ring known as The Spiders (hence the title) and shares a past with Lisbeth. Hoeks brings the same icy aura here as she did playing the replicant henchwoman in Blade Runner 2049. Glimpses of the girls’ tragic childhood together are shown early on, and that’s all I’ll say to avoid spoiling. Unfortunately, the extension of the fragile relationship between them isn’t delved into nearly as much as I would have liked.

If the major elements of the plot of The Girl in the Spider’s Web all sound familiar, it’s probably because they are. These formulaic aspects are nothing you haven’t seen before in any of the Jack Ryan or Jason Bourne films. The twists and turns most likely won’t surprise you, as novelists Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum (and the movies based on their work) have specialized in them for well over 30 years.

While the storyline may feel a bit plain and tiresome, the man behind the camera certainly brings a great visual style to the whole affair. Spider’s Web director Fede Alvarez (2013’s Evil Dead remake, Don’t Breathe) is mostly known for horror/thriller, and so has a great knack for capturing the “dark beauty”, so to speak, of the setting. The dreary and snow-covered streets of Stockholm are pretty and peaceful—before being splattered with blood from several gunshots, that is.

Speaking of the action sequences, there are a few tense cat-and-mouse chases and shootouts, as well as a pretty sweet moment of Lisbeth racing her Ducati motorcycle across a frozen lake to avoid capture. But for those hoping for cool fight scenes in the realm of Bourne or maybe John Wick, you may walk away being disappointed. Lisbeth might not be Matt Damon with a rolled-up magazine, but she IS pretty handy with a cattle stun gun!

The Girl in the Spider’s Web definitely has its problems, but the film is saved primarily by the performance of its leading lady. Mara was excellent in her version of Lisbeth, but Foy has rightfully earned her kudos by doing the character more than enough justice herself. From Wonder Woman’s Diana to Mad Max’s Furiosa, her Lisbeth Salander has joined the esteemed ranks of these 21st century heroines—even if her movie is not on the same level.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is now playing in theaters everywhere.


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