British actress and “The Crown” star Claire Foy steps into the iconic role of Swedish hacker Lisbeth Salander in a tale of spies, Russian thugs and international intrigue in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” an entertaining but superficial crime thriller costarring Sverrir Gudnason (“Borg vs McEnroe”), LaKeith Stanfield (“Sorry to Bother You”) and Sylvia Hoeks (“Blade Runner 2049”).
Directed by Fede Alvarez from the novel of the same name by David Lagercrantz, which is the fourth installment in the Millenium series and the first written by someone other than the late Stieg Larsson, this sufficiently suspenseful thriller takes a more Hollywood approach to the material than director David Fincher did with his 2011 version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” favoring familiar action beats and perpetual peril in place of exploring the character’s dark psychology. Adapted for the screen by Alvarez, Steven Knight (“Locke”) and Jay Basu, the script keeps audiences engaged with its twisty espionage plot and constant action, but doesn't delve deep enough into the central character, and even earns some eye rolls in the process. What results is a fairly pedestrian crime thriller that caters more to fans of James Bond and “Mission: Impossible” style blockbusters than those of Larsson’s Millenium series.
After a childhood flashback involving an abusive father and a sister named Camilla who couldn’t escape his violent grasp, “Spider’s Web” begins with Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy), Swedish hacker and vigilante for abused women, receiving a call from Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), a former NSA employee who helped develop FireFall, a sought-after computer program that accesses nuclear weapons codes. Balder fears what the Americans will use it for, and asks Salander to use her hacking skills to snatch it back, much to the chagrin of NSA agent Edwin Needham (LaKeith Stanfield), who travels to Stockholm in search of Salander. However, by then, Lisbeth’s hacker lair is attacked by a group of Russian thugs with spider web tattoos, and they make off with her computer and the FireFall program to go along with it.
The only person in possession of the FireFall access codes is Balder’s savant son August, but when he is kidnapped and his father murdered, it’s up to Lisbeth to track down the tattooed goons and save the child from his imminent demise. With the help of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), Lisbeth joins forces with NSA agent Needham to rescue August and, yes, save the world from nuclear annihilation as well. Lisbeth’s predicament is further complicated when her long-lost sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks) is revealed to be at the center of the nuclear conspiracy.
Much like he displayed in his creepy 2016 horror flick “Don’t Breathe,” director Fede Alvarez proves himself adept in the realm of suspense, keeping audiences engaged with a seemingly never ending string of tense action sequences. The main problem is that none of the high-octane happenings in this latest version has much food for thought, resulting in a consistently entertaining but largely hollow cinematic experience. Still, despite the familiar plot points and one-dimensional characters, the filmmaking on display is otherwise impressive, especially Pedro Luque’s stark imagery that underscores the cold and unforgiving setting and Tatiana S. Riegel’s ace editing that keeps the action moving briskly along.
Following in the footsteps of previous Lisbeth Salander portrayers Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara is no easy task, but Claire Foy, who already has two excellent big screen performances under her belt this year in “Unsane” and “First Man,” shows no strain stepping into the role, proving herself a captivating presence throughout. But even though the film touches on the character’s psychological struggles, the action always takes precedence, which doesn’t leave Foy much to do but hopscotch between fight sequences, gunplay and car chases. Supporting roles in this version are fairly forgettable, though LaKeith Stanfield is a welcome presence as NSA agent Edwin Needham and Sylvia Hoeks is acceptably unsettling as Lisbeth’s evil sister Camilla. And unlike previous depictions of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist by the likes of Daniel Craig and the late Michael Nyqvist, here the role feels like an afterthought, which is more of a script flaw than any fault of Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason.
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” will appeal to action aficionados but leave fans of Larsson’s beloved book series as cold as its icy setting.
By Lucas Mirabella
Running Time: 115 minutes
Rated R for violence, language, and some sexual content/nudity.