The disastrous effect of the Superhero genre on the specifically regional thriller movie is here for all to see in ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’. It is not just that the Swedish language – which sounds exactly like English spoken backwards – is missing. This is fair enough, because, of course, this is an English language production. It is not just that the ethnic and cultural specificity in the setting of the world of Lisbeth Salander, vigilante computer hacker and enemy of misogyny, is missing. After Stieg Larsson’s passing, David Lagercrantz took over the writing of a new book series based on the same characters, and he is also an author with a distinctly individual style and story telling technique.
But what is dramatically different in this movie is the magical narrative style of the cinema here. The film opens with Lisbeth Salander as a little girl who flees from childhood trauma from her abusive father. In the very next scene, we see a CEO of a corporation who has beaten his wife to pulp in his luxury apartment. Suddenly, the lights go out and a caped crusader appears. It is Lisbeth (Claire Foy). She strings the man upside down with one pull of a contraption and gets him to sign off all the money in his bank account to two prostitutes that he had tortured earlier, and to his wife, who looks on, bloody, but grateful. Then she roars off on her motorcycle, her break-in to a high security apartment building unexplained. A television newscaster appears to explain that this is one of several vigilante rescues of abused women by the mysterious lady in a cape. Even the wife of the sadistic CEO comes on air to personally thank her.
Realism is replaced by the supernatural. As the plot develops, we see Lisbeth’s death defying escapes from attempted assassinations. She has hacked and retrieved ‘Firefall’ from the National Security Agency’s servers, a programme that can access the nuclear codes of all weapon systems in the world. As a result, she is on the international hit list of many rogue organisations, like the crime syndicate, ’The Spiders’. On one occasion, her apartment is bombed out, with Lisbeth inside, but she survives by staying underwater in a bathtub.
Had there been complicated and textured relationships in the movie, it would have balanced out the almost paranormal action in the story. Lisbeth is a bi-sexual character with a very active sex life, and there is something earthily sensual about her. But in this version she is abrupt and cold in her relationships. When her lover, Maria (played by the transgender supermodel, Andreja Pejić), asks her about her sister, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), and why she never told her about having one, she answers mono-syllabically, and tells her to leave now, because she is working. There is no affection in their meetings, and no lust either for that matter.
What probably saves ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ is the pacing. It is an even and fast moving film, reasonably well shot, that holds your attention for the duration. It does not absorb you with text, sub-text and meaning, and you are not fascinated by any character in the movie.
But, it has to be said, Claire Foy is mind blowing in her transformation from her portrayals of Queen Elizabeth 2, in ‘The Crown’, and the wife of Neil Armstrong in ‘First Man’, to a short haired, butch woman with pierced nose and eyebrows, sporting a dragon tattoo under her shirt. It is chameleon like, and almost worth the price of a ticket to see.