‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ will likely require you to suspend some belief in gravity and reality
The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Rated C)
Cast: Claire Foy, Lakeith Stanfied, Sylvia Hoeks, Sverrir Gudnason
Genre: Crime thriller
All hail Claire Foy!
It’s been a triumphant past 24 months for the British actress, beginning in November 2016, when we got to see her for the first time as a young Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s “The Crown”, and the immediate praise and acclaim for her performance, including a Golden Globe win for Best Actress in a Television Drama, just two months later.
But especially in the last 12 months, Foy has seemed to be simply unstoppable. The show’s second season last December, with its arguably even stronger performances, earned her an Emmy Award for outstanding lead actress in a drama in September. And then just last month, Foy brought warmth, strength and grace as the worried wife of astronaut Neil Armstrong in “First Man” with Ryan Gosling.
Now here she is headlining “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”. And once again, Foy is simply amazing. Who would have thought the person so effortlessly playing the conservative and stodgy Queen of the United Kingdom would make for a truly credible action hero?
Well, she does it! And it seems the only question left to ask is, “What can’t she do?”
However, with the new film, Foy does find herself in perhaps unfamiliar territory, as for the first time since she’s made a name for herself, she’s part of a production that is not quite in the same league as her talents.
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is the sequel (sort of) to 2011’s stupendous “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”.
How these pictures came to the big screen is quite a complicated story, worthy of a movie itself. “Dragon Tattoo” was based on the novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. He wrote three books, which have come to be known as the “Millennium Trilogy”. But Larsson died in 2004 from a heart attack before any of his work had been published. When the books were posthumously released beginning in 2005, they became massive international bestsellers.
The first English theatrical adaptation of his novels, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was released in 2011, starring Daniel Craig (Mr. 007 himself) and Rooney Mara as the iconic character Lisbeth Salander – with that dragon tattoo. Mara was so spectacular that her performance earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
The movie was also a hit at the box office. And anticipation was high for the follow-up films, which were to be based on the next two books in the series, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest”.
But the years came and went, and nothing! Even Mara, who was contracted to continue playing Lisbeth, publicly expressed doubt that anything would happen.
In the meantime, Larsson’s Swedish publishers commissioned author David Lagercrantz to continue the novel series. His first book, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”, debuted in 2015.
So “Spider’s Web” is actually the fourth book, and not written by Larsson. And there are no English-language movies based on the two other books, though there are Swedish film adaptations. Mara and Craig have long moved on, with Foy and Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason taking over their roles. Thus, this new flick is essentially a major reboot.
In it, we find Frans Balder, recently fired from the National Security Agency, recruiting hacker Lisbeth Salander to steal FireWall, a computer program that can access codes for nuclear weapons worldwide. The download soon draws attention from an NSA agent who traces the activity to Stockholm. Further problems arise when Russian thugs take Lisbeth’s laptop and kidnap a young math whiz who can make FireWall work. Now, Lisbeth and an unlikely ally must race against time to save the boy and recover the codes to avert disaster.
As an action thriller, the film is more than acceptable. There’s nothing groundbreaking or especially memorable here. Competent, may be the best way to describe it.
It will likely require you to suspend some belief in gravity and reality, and it’s replete with a lot of little conveniences. These would be highly irritating if action movies hadn’t already trained us so well to accept this stuff. Most of the rest of us wouldn’t do so well if Russian thugs were to shoot up our homes and set them on fire, and we’d likely be obliterated within the first half-hour of a film version of this kind of tale (if not 10 minutes).
The bigger challenge, though, is that it’s competing against the picture that started it all, and it just can’t hold a candle to the surprising “Dragon Tattoo”.
But Foy, and a decent cast, including Lakeith Stanfield (“Get Out”), a co-star on TV’s stellar “Atlanta”, who is also having quite a breakout year with his own starring role in this year’s well-regarded “Sorry to Bother You”, make it all worthwhile.
Fans of Foy – who won’t be playing QEII when “The Crown” returns for its third season, as all the characters’ ages will be advanced – should definitely check it out, to get another chance to marvel at her incredible range of skills.
She is royalty indeed!
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @morningblend969.