‘The Girl in the Spider's Web' delivers pulpy thrills [Review]

Let's get this out of the way; director Fede Alvarez's "The Girl in the Spider’s Web" doesn't remotely come close to replicating the artful resonance that David Fincher gave to his 2011 film, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Hell, Alvarez's film can't quite muster enough quality to stack up with the first two Swedish films -- which were directed by Niels Arden Oplev based on Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Swedish novels (the third film was a dud).  However,  I cannot dismiss the nerve-wrecking tension that is packed in 'Spider's Web,' a grisly 117 minute pulp noir that is just what the doctor ordered as far as Im concerned. The multiplex is laden these days with reboots, sequels, and animated flicks, but 'Spider's Web' feels like a film created by human hands.

Oscar nominee Rooney Mara is not back in the role of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace played Salander in the Swedish films); Instead we get Claire Foy, a brilliant British actress known for her invaluable work as Queen Elizabeth on BBC's "The Crown." 'Spider's Web,' based on the 2015 novel by David Lagercrantz (who was hired after Larsson’s death to continue the Millennium series), has Alvarez and co-screenwriters Jay Basu and Steven Knight infusing delicious pulp verve into their film and Foy completely absorbing her role.

Alvarez's film starts off with a flashback: we see a teenage Lisbeth escaping from her incestuous father, but stranding her sister Camilla with pervy daddy in the process. The film hints that Salander's life's work of punishing 'men who hurt women' derived from the very beginnings of her twisted childhood. Enter, for greater effect, Salander's first male victim in the film, a cheating husband who has a knack for beating up hookers he hires. Salander uses a taser and rope to give him a valuable lesson, and that's just the start of some of the perverse games to come.
The thrills in 'Spider's Web' are compulsively watchable; Alvarez, using cinematographer Pedro Luque’s slick camerawork, thrusts us into the devious world of The Spiders gang, who are desperately looking to get their paws on software that could hack the world's nuclear capabilities. Lisbeth is trying to protect the program and its creator, Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), but as soon as he's iced, she has to beat the clock and protect Balder's six-year-old son August (Christopher Convery). The kid is the only person who knows the complicated codes to launch the attack. Engulfed into this underground world of hacking is Edwin Needham (a fantastic Lakeith Stanfield, of "Atlanta" fame), an NSA wiz who tries to nab Lisbeth after she hacks him.
Foy infuses Salander with her own DNA, finding the essence that makes this 21st century character so great; any other actress may have balked at the over-stuffed screenplay and gotten lost in this relentless deck of cards, but Foy manages to break through and have us follow her every move. The tropes of the other films are back; this isn't an original statement by any stretch, and the books' reliance on coincidence and chance are on full display as well in 'Spider's Web.' If Fincher broke through all of that, Alvarez struggles to successfully depict the more convoluted parts of the story. Nevertheless, the action he stages is magnificently rendered -- the gritty and dark tones he brought to his excellent 2015 horror film, "Don't Breathe", were no fluke. The plot and characters might not feel as fresh the third time around but Salander is a female heroine who feels just right for the current moment. [B]