By JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer
No, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” isn’t a Spider-man spinoff about a young woman ensnarled by Peter Parker. But you’d be forgiven for thinking the latest, revamped iteration of Stieg Larsson’s thrillers has some superhero DNA.
This, Lisbeth Salander’s third big-screen incarnation in nine years, has morphed the avenging Stockholm hacker into a blander action hero, complete with a Batman-and-Robin-like band of white across her eyes. Following the spikier Swedish trilogy, with Noomi Rapace, and David Fincher’s menacing and murky “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” with Rooney Mara, we can almost palpably feel Lisbeth (Claire Foy this time) being lured out of the shadows and toward a more mainstream movie realm. In this latest chapter, Lisbeth strives, like a Scandinavian 007, to keep a world-threatening atomic weapons program dubbed “Firefall” out of the wrong hands. (Are there any right ones?)
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” directed by Uruguayan-born Fede Alvarez (“Don’t Breathe,” 2013’s “Evil Dead” reboot), smooths away some of the rough edges of a saga predicated on them, resulting in a competent but indistinguishable thriller. Lisbeth, a volatile cyberpunk vigilante propelled by her own demons of abuse, remains a great character in search of a decent plot.
It’s a shame, too, because a fearsome woman meting out justice for detestable men is, well, kind of appropriate right now. In the film’s first scene — the most comic book-like of them all — Lisbeth strings up an offending husband like a fish while gutting his bank account and, with a few clicks, transferring his savings to his victimized wife. Batman could do no better.
Such exchanges, though, quickly recede in favor of a larger conspiracy that ropes in the NSA (Lakeith Stanfield plays an agent), a Russian gang called the Spiders (with Claes Bang) and the Swedish authorities. It begins when Salander is approached by a former NSA agent (Stephen Merchant) who built the software program but who now (only now?) is concerned that the ability to launch every nuclear weapon on the planet might actually be a bad idea.
Soon, all manner of bad guys are after him, his young but brilliant son (Christopher Convery) and Salander. The investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason in the part previously Daniel Craig and Michael Nyqvist) is around at times but makes little of an impression.
The story also connects, we sense, somehow to Salander’s own past, her incestuous father and a sister believed to have died years ago. Snippets of flashbacks give a window into the scars beneath Salander’s tattoos, while de rigueur action set pieces propel the movie slowly along, as if it forgot to pick up a sense of suspense along the way. (In one novel twist, Salander, in mid-car chase, hacks into the other vehicle and takes control of it. The so-called Internet of Things may sound the death knell for the prolonged getaway.)
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” penned by Alvarez, Steven Knight and Jay Basu, is based on fourth novel in the series and the first written by David Lagercrantz. (Larsson died in 2004.) They haven’t done Foy, one of the most exciting actresses around, any favors in saddling her with a forgettable international espionage tale. The superlative cast, generally, is wasted, including Vicky Krieps, Stanfield and Bang.
But as compelling as Foy is, she’s also missing a quality that any Lisbeth ought to have, and it has nothing to do with shedding the primness of her Queen Elizabeth II for Salander’s jet-black hair and piercings. The greatest tension in Larsson’s “Millennium” series is how Salander so bristles with unease in the world, even while she expertly manipulates everything in it. No such conflict is found in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” a commonplace thriller for an uncommon heroine.
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America violence, language and some sexual content/nudity. Running time: 115 minutes. Two stars out of four.
MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.