“After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels…”. A fitting quote to open my review of Fede Alvarez’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web. In one of the opening scenes of this action/thriller/drama from the director of the brilliantly violent Evil Dead remake, I couldn’t help but think how much Lisbeth Salander (played for the first time by Claire Foy who does an excellent job) was like my favourite superhero of all time – Batman. She does everything he does except without the armour and cowl.
That’s right, Lisbeth Salander is a certified, 100%, badass. She lurks in the shadows, rights wrongs and avenges wrongdoing. Based on what was originally known as the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is based on the latest addition to this book series written by David Lagercrantz. Having seen the original Swedish film trilogy many years ago and then the unnecessary (and underwhelming) David Fincher remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was excited to see this latest entry into the same universe.
Part thriller, part action and part drama, like the films and books before it, Spider’s Web follows computer hacker Lisbeth as she does typical action/thriller movie tasks like save the world from sure destruction. This time around, Lisbeth needs to prevent a computer programme that can control every single missile in the world from a laptop (that old chestnut!) from getting into the hands of dastardly dickish devils. Although the story line itself is pretty stock standard for a movie of this genre, what makes it better than just a female Mission Impossible or James Bond is the depth that is put into our heroine both in terms of backstory and Claire Foy’s portrayal of said heroine.
For those who are unfamiliar with Lisbeth, she has an extremely stoic exterior (black clothes, black hair, black eyes) which she uses to protect herself from the softness and love she actually feels for those around her due to her past and the fear she has that if she acknowledges the fact that she loves and needs people then she has all the more to lose. This extra depth to the character is what makes these films so successful as we aren’t just fed this untouchable, unrelatable badass. Instead we are connected with this completely untouchable yet equally vulnerable and realistic human being which makes the stakes actually feel high rather than just the feeling of knowing nothing can ever go wrong for our protagonist.
Alvarez’s directional style, as with his previous films, is almost hyper-realistic in that everything is almost perfect in its darkness and tone and the camera moves with a smoothness that follows the dialogue with such a beautiful emphasis on characterisation and connection – something that excels the intensity of his horror and action films. Shot after beautiful shot means Spider’s Web flows with ease and majesty. However I did feel that Alvarez wasn’t as exceptional at shooting the action scenes which often felt like they were too zoomed in and the edits were too quick so that when combined with the dark blue filter that saturates the film, it was hard to tell exactly what was going on. A small price to pay for the scenes of beauty that make up the majority of the film.
The film never gets over-bloated in trying to preach about some of the more sensitive subject matter it touches on and the references to Lisbeth’s past that lead up to the final showdown (with an equally impressive villainess) ties everything together with an ever twisting and turning result. Often films introduce these themes for the sake of it when writing female characters as though abuse is the only thing that can make a female Hollywood hero strong and I nearly commented about how it would be nice to see female characters in Hollywood films to be driven by something other than these backstories of sexual violence and abuse. However, given the nature of the stories that the film is based on and the way Lisbeth is driven and the type of hero she is, the use of these themes feels more than just an overused cliche to drive the plot and something a bit more layered and reasoned.
I think this one will please not only those who just like a well shot action film but also those movie goers who are looking for something a bit more character driven and thoughtful than the endless and repetitive male driven equivalents.
Hollywood take note – women are badass. Give them more to do.
– Ashton Brown