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'The Girl in the Spider's Web' review: Claire Foy's performance marred by messy adaptation

The actress stars as Lisbeth Salander but can't make up for a weak, unimaginative script.

Claire Foy as Swedish vigilante cyberhacker Lisbeth Salander

Claire Foy as Swedish vigilante cyberhacker Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl in the Spider's Web." Photo Credit: Sony Pictures/Reiner Bajo

'The Girl in the Spider's Web' 

Directed by Fede Alvarez

Starring Claire Foy, Sylvia Hoeks, Lakeith Stanfield

Rated R

From corrupt government agents to an evil twin sister, Lisbeth Salander sustains fresh assaults in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” but the harshest blows come from the filmmakers' attempt to turn a dynamic heroine into a generic big-screen superhero.

The crime-thriller checks a lot of boxes for a mass-appeal hit — explosions, sexy cars, supervillains — but it lacks the depth that has allowed this series to sell over 80 million books and counting.

Fans of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series in particular will find director Fede Alvarez’s “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” wanting, notwithstanding a skillful effort from Claire Foy as the cyberhacking Swede.

The Emmy-winning “Crown” actress’ portrayal of Lisbeth is the character’s third on-screen incarnation — Rooney Mara earned an Oscar nomination for the role in David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” while Noomi Rapace starred in three Swedish-language adaptations of the first three books.

This time around we’re introduced to Lisbeth as a nocturnal vigilante, taking vengeance on woman-beaters around Stockholm, before she becomes involved with the retrieval of world-ending computer software, stolen by a group of violent cybercriminals led by Lisbeth's estranged twin sister (Sylvia Hoeks). 

Based on David Lagercrantz’s 2015 book of the same name — a continuation of the late Larsson’s initial trilogy — Alvarez and Jay Basu’s flimsy screenplay strays far from its source without improving it. Dazzling visuals do little to compensate for the script’s lack of imagination and shallowness.

Clever plot devices are traded for dumbed-down storylines, while complex characters are reduced to predictable stereotypes. As with Foy, appearances by Lakeith Stanfield (“Sorry to Bother You”), Stephen Merchant (“Logan”) and Vicky Krieps (“Phantom Thread”) mostly go to waste and merely tease the audience of the movie’s potential. Obvious references to mainstream hits — from Batman to James Bond — come off as desperate attempts to appeal to every possible blockbuster moviegoer.

Redeeming moments come in the form of striking cinematography by Pedro Luque, who superbly captures pyrotechnics and stunts shot within the bitterness of Sweden’s winter landscape. The movie’s saving grace is Foy, who effectively embodies Lisbeth’s tough vulnerability and proves to be as comfortable racing a motorbike over a barely frozen lake as she is sipping tea at Buckingham Palace.

We just wish Alvarez had a little more faith in his audience, along with the original story, and treated Lisbeth with a little more respect than that of a potential cash cow.

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