CENT The Girl in the Spider's Web review: Lisbeth Salander deserves better - CNET

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Lisbeth Salander is loved by millions as Sweden's iconic hacker heroine sporting a dragon tattoo and a punk hairstyle. The latest actor to play her on screen is Claire Foy, a Golden Globe winner for portraying Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown. Monarch to mohawk seems like a huge leap, and yet Foy is more than up to the task of embodying the motorcycle-riding, scarred-deep-down hero who can hack just about anything.

That's the good news. The bad news is, the stark, intelligent world of the Salander stories is now a silly Bond-esque action movie.

The Girl in the Spider's Web is the fifth Salander movie, including three Swedish movies starring Noomi Rapace and David Fincher's 2011 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that shot Rooney Mara to Oscar nom stardom. Spider's Web is based on the fourth novel in Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, written by David Lagercrantz after Larsson's death.

But unlike the careful plotting of the previous movies, Spider's Web director Fede Alvarez goes for big explosions, fast car chases and plots involving -- sigh -- nuclear warhead codes. With a hacker character like Salander, the emphasis on tech runs throughout, but it's tech that works like magic. Salander can hack a car mid-chase and leaves personalised rude finger-flipping calling cards. She's snarky and fun, but this isn't the Salander we knew.

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Claire Foy as "superhacker" Lisbeth Salander.Sony Pictures

A rainy Stockholm shrouds Salander on her home ground in Sweden's underground club scene, having casual relationships with random women and keeping a pet lizard. That's all while she's not moonlighting as a kind of Batwoman -- complete with heavy eye makeup and wing imagery -- targeting women-abusing men and pillaging their vast bank accounts.

She's enlisted by Stephen Merchant playing it straight as an ex-US agent who regrets handing over access to the world's nuclear warheads. Salander's task is to save the day by downloading the encrypted program known as Firefall and making sure no one unencrypts it.

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A look at Salander without the makeup.Sony Pictures

Cue fiendish bad guys known as The Spiders chasing after her, as well as Swedish government officials who like to banter with their detainees using Swedish tour guide books. The baddies are unveiled with white eyebrows and face masks, making this an uneasy combination of pantomime, action thriller and weighty themes -- themes of sexual abuse and torture which are brought up, then largely left alone.

There's an intriguing aspect in Salander's personal connection to the baddies, which reveals something about her past and why she is the way she is. But that quickly falls by the wayside so Salander can easily outwit her opponents via an unsatisfying combination of tech magic and lucky coincidence.

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Journalist Mikael Blonkvist played by Sverrir Gudnason.Sony Pictures

Salander's journalist more-than-friend Mikael Blomkvist shows up, played here by Sverrir Gudnason. Unlike his leading role in the previous books and movies, this is more of a cameo appearance. He provides help in tracking targets and solving clues, but thanks to Salander's magical skills, he seems superfluous -- an obligatory element, like Salander's mohawk, just a part of who she is.

Their relationship is barely explored, and Blomkvist is now a meeker version of the character who hasn't written anything for three years and who doesn't seem to know how to delete Word documents. The consistencies in the Girl Who... world don't exist.

Lakeith Stanfield adds another player to the mix as an entertainingly snarky secret agent from the US. He and Salander share one of the funnier moments of the movie, up there with Salander stealing a black Batmobile-esque Lamborghini for the heck of it, and Swedish secret service boss Gabriella Grane (Synnøve Macody Lund) saying, "Arrest him. Send him back to Disneyland."

If The Girl in the Spider's Web brings anything to the table, it's a potentially intriguing glimpse into Salander's past. But it's handled loosely, with a lighter, more palatable tone than the books and movies fans love. This isn't a standalone movie, but it's trying to be, reiterating Salander's distinct character traits and potentially setting her up as a hacker sleuth for hire -- James Bond with a magical computer and a mohawk.

The Girl in the Spider's Web crawls into cinemas Nov. 9 in the US, Nov. 21 in the UK and Nov. 8 in Australia.

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