“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” morphs into The Girl with Nine Lives in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” a bastardized borrowing of Stieg Larrson’s avenging hacker angel.
Lisbeth Salander has more narrow escapes than Jason Bourne in this stylish but stale reboot of the Franchise Hollywood Never Quite Gets Right. It’s still snowy and Swedish (once removed), still a chilling peek at the seamy underbelly of the blonde and beautiful socialist paradise. But here character is sacrificed pure action and story becomes whatever they can make of a fifth rate Bond villain and ridiculous plot device.
There’s an encryption expert (Stephen Merchant) who wants something he sold to the Americans stolen from them,” the sum of all my sins” is how he describes it. Lisbeth, here played by the fierce Claire Foy of “The Crown” and “First Man,” is underground and on the run.
But she has a motorcycle, mad computer hacking skills and hacking support (“Plague,” played by (Cameron Britton) and a rep as a “righter of wrongs.” She’ll take the job.
That puts her, the code expert and the guy’s doted-on son (Christopher Convery) in jeopardy. There’s this murderous pan-national gang “The Spiders” — with tattoos to ID them — who want that computer file as well.
Lisbeth has to take a break from her “vigilante…defender of women” hobby and evade her pursuers, who also include this seriously irked NSA agent (Lakeith Stanfield of “Sorry to Bother You” and “Atlanta”) and the Swedish intelligence service and its bristling chief (Synnøve Macody Lund).
She escapes from an exploding building, dodges cops on her river-ice worthy motorcycle, makes a getaway in a Volvo and eventually steals a Lamborghini.
All made possible because of that lazy deus ex machina of modern fiction and screenwriting — the Omnipotent Hacker.
Lisbeth can find anyone, take control of anything, often via her handy-dandy smartypants smart phone. And even if she can’t say, break into a building and tell you everyone in it and where they are within that building, her pal Plague can.
Lisbeth’s journalist pal and sometime lover (she’s gay, as are several other characters in this) Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) has been reduced to bit-player/pawn in this tale, perhaps a reflection of the shrinking role of journalism in “righting wrongs.”
Foy, dressed down, butch haircut and covered in piercings and tattoos, gives Lisbeth back the fierceness that skinny rich model Rooney Mara never could manage, even as the script can’t decide here if Lisbeth is violent and vengeful or not. She keeps letting bad guys she knows are murderous go, only to have them try and kill her again.
The little boy is rather bland in the role (some of that’s a scriptural “on the spectrum” requirement), the villains murderous but also inclined to let Lisbeth live when logic dictates they have what they need from her.
The fights staged for director Fede Alvarez (“Don’t Breathe”) are epic. Novel uses of a taser and cattle prod are among the props, and Foy holds her own here — wholly committed to the violence Lisbeth metes out and takes.
One thing about this story that the late novelist Stieg Larsson would have approved of is the stench of corruption the permeates the shiny, progressive gloss that is the world’s image of Sweden. But you have to wonder if Larsson, obsessed with the sordid, Nazi sympathizing past of Sweden’s wealthy elite, would have thought up a story, characters and plot devices as trite and worn as those used here.
Had he lived, I’ll bet he’d have gotten into Sweden’s uneasy relationship with its non-white immigrants and beneath-the-surface attitudes the blue-eyed blondes never let the rest of the world see.
“Spider’s Web” — and the screenwriters seem too embarrassed to acknowledge that slapping new tattoos onto the tale was stupid and lazy, so they don’t make much of it — is never less than watchable. But for all that wintry Swedish gloom, all that ultra-violence and vengeance, there isn’t a minute in its 117 minutes that you’re not aware you’re watching an inferior photocopy.
When it comes to girls with a dragon tattoo, give us Noomi Rapace and a story by Stieg Larsson, or let it go.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity
Cast: Claire Foy, Stephen Merchant, Sylvia Hoeks, Lakekeith Stanfield, Sverrir Gudnason, Cameron Britton
Credits:Directed by Fede Alvarez, script by Jay Basu, Fede Alvarez and Steven Knight, based on the David Lagercrantz novel which used Stieg Larsson’s characters. A Sony release.
Running time: 1:57