Back in 2009, when it was announced that David Fincher was to direct an American adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novel ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, it was to be the second outing of industrial punk antiheroine Lisbeth Salander. Fincher’s version, with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, followed the original Swedish film versions (which starred Noomi Rapace as Salander and Michael Nyqvist as her ally/sometime lover, journalist Mikhail Blomkvist) and was supposed to kick off another franchise for Sony.
Despite the critical success of Fincher’s film, sequels were never forthcoming, and for a long time there was radio silence on the American Millennium trilogy. Out of Fincher’s ashes comes a soft reboot: this time featuring Claire Foy as Salander and Sverrir Gudnason as a younger version as Blomkvist, with Fede Álvarez (who previously helmed the 2013 Evil Dead remake) on directing duties.
Rather than a direct sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (that would be The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) the film skips ahead to the fourth book in the series (penned by David Lagercrantz following Stieg Larsson’s death). A considerable amount of time has passed, and Lisbeth now spends a considerable amount of time “hurting men who hurt women”. Her unique brand of heavy metal vigilante justice has made her a wanted woman, as has attention directed onto her thanks to ex-flame Blomkvist publishing details of her exploits in his magazine. Hired by computer scientist Frans Balder (played, somewhat jarringly, by Stephen Merchant) to steal a computer programme of his creation from the NSA, Lisbeth inadvertently unleashes a host of demons from her own past.
A myriad of subplots float in and out of the frame. LaKeith Stanfield plays Balder’s colleague, Edwin Needham, who travels to Stockholm to try and recover the stolen computer programme, Vicky Krieps pops up as Blomkvist’s colleague and lover, while Claes Bang is cast as a bleach-blonde Russian henchman. That’s a lot of talent to waste, but wasted it is given that the entire film revolves purely around Salander. That wouldn’t be a problem if Foy was able to bring something to the role, but she feels entirely miscast as Lisbeth, grimacing her way through the film as if she’s not entirely sure what she’s doing there either.
It’s a shame the film lacks any stylistic innovation or flair of its own, instead feeling like a tame impersonation of Fincher’s 2011 film, even down to a scene where Salander exacts rough justice on an abusive man. Indeed, it’s difficult to evaluate The Girl in the Spider’s Web on its own merit when it feels so hopelessly tied up in a different director’s vision. Everything about this soft reboot feels one note, and it stands as a disappointing reminder of what could have been if Mara, Craig and Fincher had stayed on board.