Will Gompertz reviews The Girl in the Spider's Web starring Claire Foy ★★☆☆☆

The Girl in the Spider's Web

The omens weren't good.

It was the evening after the heavily advertised nationwide release of The Girl in the Spider's Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, and the city centre cinema where I went to see the film was as empty as a trickster's promise.

Such a pitiful showing would have been a dispiriting sight for the Sony Pictures execs who'd backed the movie to kick-start the stalled Millennium Series franchise. For those who didn't show up, rest easy - you made the right choice.

The fifth film to have been adapted from Stieg Larsson's best-selling Scandi-noir saga is easily the worst of the bunch.

And that's not because it is an adaptation of the fourth book in the series written after Larsson's death by David Lagercrantz (who also ghosted the best sports autobiography in living memory, I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic).

The problem with the film, nominally a psychological thriller, is that it is neither disturbing nor thrilling.

Image copyright Sony Pictures Releasing
Image caption The Girl in the Spider's Web is an action-packed film, but lacks dramatic tension

It is a perfectly serviceable but very predictable action movie full of car-chase clichés and video game shoot-outs, powered by a plot that has about as much dramatic tension as a game of garden bowls.

The movie opens with the two young Salander sisters playing chess in their father's draughty and over-the-top eerie cliff-top concrete castle. When they finish the game their sexually abusive dad decides it's his turn to play with them.

Not nice.

Lisbeth hurls herself from a broken balcony into the deep snow below and legs it. Camilla stays.

Image copyright Sony Pictures Releasing
Image caption Sylvia Hoeks plays Camilla, who is Lisbeth's sister

Cut to a couple of decades later and Lisbeth (Claire Foy) has moved into an industrial space in town that makes her dad's old place look cosy. Still, it matches her goth-punk aesthetic and cold-as-ice persona, which, in turn, fits with her life as a monosyllabic vigilante intent on dishing out the old electric cattle-prod treatment to an assortment of baddies.

Image copyright Sony Pictures Releasing
Image caption From The Queen to punk computer hacker, Claire Foy takes on the role of Lisbeth Salander

She takes on a detective job for a nerdy computer programmer (Stephen Merchant) who has created a nuclear version of Frankenstein's Monster.

"What am I looking for?" she asks.

"The sum of all my sins," replies the bearded Merchant.

It's not a great line in any circumstance, but is beyond limp coming from the mouth of a man who looks like his idea of being naughty is un-tucking his pyjama top.

Anyway, off Lisbeth goes, riding her black Ducati motorbike with elbows out like wings, into a murky world of deadly Russians, decent Americans, and inscrutable Swedes. She is not entirely alone; as ever she can rely on a little help from a few geeky friends and her old chum and admirer Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), an investigative journalist.

Image copyright Sony Pictures Releasing
Image caption Investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) is Lisbeth's ally

And that's it really.

The story unfolds as you would imagine, with plot twists as surprising as getting a woolly jumper for Christmas.

Claire Foy does a reasonable job in a limited role, which offers precious little opportunity to flesh out her character beyond being a cartoonishly two-dimensional action hero blessed with the tech skills to put her in the running for Employee of the Month at PC World.

Who knows why the film's talented director Fede Álvarez (Don't Breathe) has chosen to swap mind games for endless punch-ups and shots of laptop screens.

Image copyright Sony Pictures Releasing
Image caption Director Fede Alvarez fails to capture the psychological depth of Larsson's work

It misses the point of Larsson's creation.

What makes the books so compelling, and the original film in which Noomi Rapace played Lisbeth, is the inner psychological drama that determines and informs each protagonist's actions and relationships.

Image copyright The Ronald Grant Archive
Image caption Noomi Rapace won acclaim in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but said she was "done" with the part

They are complicated, dark stories, populated by damaged and complex characters. They need time to evolve and unfold in their otherworldliness. The Girl in the Spider's Web doesn't allow for any of that. Instead we have yet another car chase to crack on with and an electric cattle prod to wield.

Why have dark and complicated when you can have simple and light?

The Girl in the Spider's Web still has her dragon tattoo but she's lost her soul.

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