Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (or The Girl Who Gets Knocked Down, But Gets Up Again, You’re Never Gonna Keep Her Down)

The English-language cinematic return to the Millennium series of books picks up with an adaptation of the fourth novel The Girl in the Spider’s Web (the first to be written after Stieg Larsson’s death).

Claire Foy steps into Lisbeth Salander’s shoes, though mostly just her black vest top and knickers. The film opens with a flashback to the abusive household she escaped from as a young child. Now she travels round as a vigilante bringing unasked retribution and an opportunity to get away for abused women.

Having set up this lone ranger, action hero persona, Lisbeth unexpectedly (at least for anyone who hasn’t read the books or watched other film adaptations) takes a hacking job to retrieve the only copy of NSA-written nuclear satellite network control software for the author who now regrets its creation.

Before too long an American is chasing Lisbeth who is chasing a masked man who is chasing a top boffin. There’s a lot of speed, many vehicles, much death, and despite being thrown around, Lisbeth is never parted from her trusty mobile phone, her equivalent of Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver.

While Claire Foy never portrays her character’s introversion in a way that looks aloof or properly asocial, she does bring a lot of grit and determination to the role. Lisbeth fights back valiantly against attackers and is handy with a Taser, but unlike the heroes of Atomic Blonde or Red Sparrow, she is usually physically over-powered, leaving her to find ever-more unlikely ways to overcome her defeat.

A lady in red appears (played by a beautifully sinister Sylvia Hoeks) and Lisbeth is confronted with her past. The ending, while looking final, leaves the possibility of the character’s return in the next tub-thumping episode of The Girl Who Gets Knocked Down, But Gets Up Again, You’re Never Gonna Keep Her Down.

The fantasy cyborg opening titles are unnecessary. There’s a lot of Sony product placement. A safe house has floor to ceiling uncurtained windows. IT nerds need to suspend a lot of disbelief for the duration of the film. That a single person could write and secure such software while in the employ of a giant organisation like the NSA is as far-fetched as it would be unprofessional. That such a skilled hacker can do so much, so quickly, yet would still leave breadcrumbs to be tracked so easily is also unconvincing. However, the IT elements of the plot aren’t the most faux that you’ll ever have seen in a cinema and the style of editing that jerks between camera angles and rarely stands still long enough to read the text on a screen somewhat dilutes any irritation.

But all of this is forgivable in what becomes a very watchable film, just shy of two hours long, that celebrates Scandi industrial design, open plan living, the need to keep several chess moves ahead when up against ominous foes, and doesn’t shy away from over-exposed cinematography that brings the notion of dark nights and bright snow into every shot (and works in a few actual spiders). Fede Alvarez’s characterisation of Lisbeth Salander is distinct enough from other big screen fare to mean I’d certainly return to see any further sequel.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is showing in cinemas across NI.

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