The “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series continues, with Claire Foy as Lisbeth Salander, but it feels as though the franchise is running out of fresh ideas. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
Here comes Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy), blasting across snowy Swedish landscapes on a high-speed black motorcycle in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.”
Clad in black from helmet to rugged leather jacket and sturdy biker boots, she’s an avenging presence in the latest chapter of the so-called Millennium movie series that so memorably launched back in 2009 with the Swedish-language “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
There have now been three actors portraying Salander: Noomi Rapace in three made-in-Sweden predecessors to this picture, Rooney Mara in the 2011 Hollywood remake of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and now Foy. Curiously, given her background of extraordinary performances (if you haven’t caught her as Janet Armstrong in “First Man,” get thee hence to see it immediately), her work in this “Girl” is as monochromatic as her outfit.
It feels inert, just this side of listless. Her Lisbeth exhibits little in the way of personality beyond a dour demeanor and flattened line deliveries.
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That may have something to do with the fact that the character and the story are far less distinctive than in the previous movies. The source novel for this picture was not written by series originator Stieg Larsson, but rather by Swedish author David Lagercrantz, who was contracted to take over the series after Larsson died in 2004.
The movies based on Larsson’s books are deeply detailed character studies that put their focus on the twisted personal dynamics that made Salander the complicated, tormented character that she is. A victim of rape, a survivor of an abusive family relationship in which her father was a pedophile and a wife beater, she comes by her vengeful streak naturally, assuming the role of a righter of wrongs and the scourge of male abusers. That characteristic manifests itself early on in an early scene in “Spider’s Web” when she literally strings up and gives painful comeuppance to a husband who has beaten his wife.
But instead of going deep into her psyche, director/co-screenwriter Fede Alvarez (Jay Basu and Steven Knight share screenplay credit) opts to turn the picture into a conventional spy thriller. Sinister evildoers are trying to get their hands on encrypted nuclear launch codes, and super hacker Lisbeth must try to stop them.
Blundering around the periphery of the story is an NSA assassin (Lakeith Stanfield) who only becomes crucial to the narrative very late in the game.
Marginal also is Lisbeth’s investigative journalist friend and one-time lover Mikael Blomkvist. A near-cipher as played by Sverrir Gudnason, he’s got what once upon a time was the damsel-in-distress role, needing to be periodically rescued by Lisbeth.
It’s only toward the end that the issue of tortured family dynamics raises its head as Lisbeth’s long-estranged sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), a dead-eyed icy blonde, appears to seek her own brutal form of vengeance on Lisbeth, whom she accuses of having abandoned her to years of incestuous abuse at the hands of their father.
The “Dragon Tattoo” series continues with “Spider’s Web,” but it seems as though the franchise is running out of gas and fresh ideas.
★★ “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” with Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant. Directed by Fede Alvarez, from a screenplay by Alvarez, Jay Basu and Steven Knight. 117 minutes. Rated R for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity. Opens Nov. 9 at multiple theaters.