For the uninitiated, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is the second installment to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which is turn is based on characters in the book series Millennium, written by Stieg Larsson. This installment stars Claire Foy (of Netflix’s The Crown) who takes over from Rooney Mara, and the story continues to follow Lisbeth Salander who has a reputation for avenging battered women.
This particular story takes Salander into a web of deceit and global nuclear domination – involving someone she thought was dead – when she’s hired to steal a highly-encrypted programme from the US government. Unbeknownst to her, it leads her straight into a trap set by the figurative ‘spider’s web’. The ‘web’ refers to a powerful Russian mob organisation, which also happens to be a part of Salander’s history that she’d rather leave behind. Flashbacks in the movie already clue you in as to who the bad guys may be.
Much of the movie is about ruthless mobsters trying to kill Salander whenever she shows up to stop them doing something devious. And although she never wins a fight (she’s always alone), she always escapes death in really inventive ways. Her character works as a hacker/vigilante who avenges people, but it’s a pity that the movie doesn’t live up to its full potential of focusing on feminist social commentary which the book series was all about. This version of Salander is probably a Hollywood idea to take the Lisbeth Salander name into a James Bond-style franchise.
While you don’t really need to know the prequel story, it does help you understand the relationship between Salander and her ex-lover Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who was literally the Watson to her Sherlock. Blomkvist remains her ally here (although in a diminished role), along with her hacker friend and Needham, an American agent who at first was tasked to kill her when he found out she was the hacker who stole the programme.
In the end, Salander’s small ragtag team is pitched against a bigger team of Russian mobsters in order to save a kidnapped boy and destroy the programme she stole from the US government. Along the way there are twists to the story, including interesting scenes of torture – one involves gas masks, another is about that black latex scene. There’s also a lot of standard mob narratives, like invincible henchmen who get their comeuppance at the end.
Overall, this cat-and-mouse chase of a movie does keep you entertained with its hijinx and action, and it’s a refreshing take to see that Salander – a brilliant hacker and strategist – doesn’t always have the upper hand. The ending does seem like a cop-out involving sisterly issues, and an overarching theme of “the past coming coming back to haunt you”.