With The Girl in the Spider's Web, the Dragon Tattoo saga becomes a franchise that mashes up other franchises. It's a little bit Bond, thanks to the series' happy switching of actors playing Lisbeth Salander. It has a dash of Bourne, courtesy of its returning protagonist and her ongoing crusade against many an unseemly conspiracy. And, with violent vengeance firmly placed centre stage in this more action-packed instalment, it nods to John Wick as well. However, blending all of these parts together, there are a few things that The Girl in the Spider's Web definitely isn't: entertaining, thrilling, or anything other than bland and generic, narrative-wise.
Even if you haven't read the book that the film is based on, The Girl in the Spider's Web comes with a sense of deja vu. It's a case of new star, new director and new author, but business as usual otherwise. For the uninitiated, Stieg Larsson's initial three novels were published after his death, then adapted into a Swedish film trilogy starring Noomi Rapace. David Fincher remade the first movie in the franchise, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in 2011 with Rooney Mara as his lead. Then, in 2015 and 2017, writer David Lagercrantz penned two more books that continued the series, starting with The Girl in the Spider's Web.
With Claire Foy stepping into Lisbeth's black and leather outfits, the hacker-slash-vigilante once again punishes men who harm women, tries to unravel a murky scheme and finds herself immersed in a plot with links to her past. This time, she's hired by an ex-National Security Agency operative (Stephen Merchant) to steal a computer program he wrote that can access the world's entire nuclear arsenal. Lisbeth's cyber skills get the job done, but another NSA expert (Lakeith Stanfield) is soon making his way around Stockholm and trying to retrieve the software. He's not the only other interested party, thanks to a shadowy group called The Spiders — who also make Lisbeth face her tragic history, including her estranged sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks).
Franchise devotees will also spot investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) and his publisher and lover Erika Berger (Vicky Krieps), although that side of the series takes a backseat to Lisbeth's latest antics. Indeed, while it boasts similar story elements, this film isn't really a mystery-thriller with a detective bent like its predecessors. Rather, it uses the same packaging to place Foy's version of Lisbeth in the kind of chasing and fighting situations that are stock-standard in action flicks.
There's an uncomfortable sense of conflict within The Girl in the Spider's Web as a result — a sense that what it's saying and what it's doing don't quite work together. The film presents its protagonist as a fiercely individualistic feminist avenger, but fashions the movie she's in after plenty of other action franchises. Whether she's virtually retracing her own footsteps or stepping into those of other no-nonsense on-screen heroes, this iteration of Lisbeth always feels like she's going through the motions. That doesn't give Foy much room to make an impact. Instead, she's largely tasked with mimicking Rapace and Mara – the latter of whom earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in the role.
The Girl in the Spider's Web also squanders much of its supporting cast, most of whom have impressed elsewhere, such as Gudnason in Borg vs McEnroe and Krieps in Phantom Thread. Get Out's Stanfield fares best based on his innate talent and charm, rather than as a result of the material that he's working with. Still, the film soars in one area: its visuals. With both his Evil Dead remake and Don't Breathe, writer-director Fede Alvarez demonstrated a distinctive command of style, which translates here to evocative and moody shades of black, white and grey. Other movies in the series have sported a suitably grim, gloomy sheen, but Alvarez makes it look and feel new here. If only the rest of The Girl in the Spider's Web had managed the same feat.