David Fincher’s original trilogy based on the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series of novels unfortunately had gone without completion, prompting Sony to reboot the entire franchise by instead adapting a book continuing off the series without Larsson’s involvement. But because Rooney Mara’s presence as Lisbeth Salander was one that would have been so difficult to replicate, you can only ask yourself what Claire Foy would be able to bring to the table – especially since this is such a drastic change for her. Although before getting into that, I must admit I was very much looking forward to Claire Foy’s take on the character of Lisbeth Salander because I really like her as an actress and it makes me glad to see that she’s getting more recognition in leading roles on film. It was for this alone I was not worried about seeing her as a replacement for Rooney Mara, but excited because she already looked as if she can play the part – and I certainly got one promise kept on the spot. Sadly, all I kept wondering to myself was whether or not this truly was a Lisbeth Salander story that I was watching, no matter how much did I love seeing a new take on the character.
Being the first film not to be adapted from any of Stieg Larsson’s novels and instead a continuation of the story written by David Lagercrantz, The Girl in the Spider’s Web already faces that challenge of how it can present itself as being its own separate entity from the original David Fincher film. In this story, we see Salander facing off a group of cyber-terrorists known as The Spiders, who may also have a connection to Salander’s traumatic past, in which she endured severe emotional abuse and quite clearly has affected her whole worldview. Among many things that I’m most confused by is the fact it already feels all too reliant on her own past ventures if Fincher’s film already was a separate entity from Fede Alvarez’s take. And part of that problem with adapting Lagercrantz’s version of Lisbeth Salander comes clear from how much it clearly feels like it’s merely imitating what Larsson created.
The idea of seeing Claire Foy playing Lisbeth Salander was something that initially I was skeptical about, especially because Rooney Mara’s portrayal of the first English-language take on the character already is difficult to top on its own. Without feeling the need to compare the two portrayals of Salander, I already found myself convinced by Claire Foy’s first scene in the film. She already makes herself out to be a convincing Lisbeth Salander right from the surface, but a big part of what doesn’t entirely make this work, no matter how wonderful Claire Foy’s performance is, comes straight from the fact it’s not written to feel like Lisbeth Salander. Some of this would already be expected given the source material not being written by Stieg Larsson, but at the same time the need to back itself up on the roots of the preceding American version only ends up creating a more reductive take on the character.
While I’m not going to pretend that Fincher’s film was perfect in every sense of the word, it feels like it has a perfect understanding of what Larsson sought to accomplish – something that Lagercrantz does not. As expected from Alvarez, it looks great and even can set up the perfect atmosphere for a Lisbeth Salander story, but even the most visually attractive aspects end up never being utilized to their very most because the story only feels as if it were reduced to being any other spy thriller. Gone are the politically-charged overtones that made Larsson’s stories stick inside of one’s own head, given his history as a journalist taking down extreme right-wing terrorism before it ends up growing into the very worst, here we just have a story about an asocial hacker being the lead of any other spy plot that a James Bond or a Bourne film could have presented. And in that sense, Alvarez’s visual eye makes that outline feel even sillier than it intended to be.
Claire Foy makes a great Lisbeth Salander, if there’s anything that her performance can prove – but it was also a take that deserved a much better film. I’d even want to see Claire Foy playing Lisbeth Salander in a Larsson adaptation, so that we can get to know her take better. This isn’t a bad film, but it only feels like fragments of what could have been much greater if Alvarez’s take also tried to make Lagercrantz’s story feel much like that of Larsson’s own writing. There are many things about The Girl in the Spider’s Web that I do find to be admirable, especially in its own willingness to explore Lisbeth Salander’s past – but I wish that Alvarez could better make this version his own story. It looks like Fincher, it looks like Larsson, but only feels like half of each. But at the very least, it’s reaffirmed my stance that Claire Foy is one of the best working actresses and it makes me glad to see her in more big leading roles – because she deserved a better Lisbeth Salander story.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sony.
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Screenplay by Jay Basu, Fede Alvarez, Steven Knight, from the novel by David Lagercrantz and characters created by Stieg Larsson
Produced by Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Ole Søndberg, Søren Stærmose, Amy Pascal, Elizabeth Cantillon
Starring Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, LaKeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant
Release Date: November 9, 2018
Running Time: 115 minutes