The title of this week’s film is a mouthful, so let me get it out of the way right now. It’s “The Girl In the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story.” That’s a reference to the terrific series that started years ago with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” the girl being a wounded and vengeful Swedish hacker named Lisbeth Salander. The central character in the new installment has the same name, but she’s changed and a lot around her has changed, none of it for the better.
Early on Lisbeth is told: “A client is asking the impossible. Are you interested?” She is, so the movie grinds on. And what, exactly, is she being hired to do? Hack into NSA computers, something that’s proved all too possible in real life. It does seem impossible for Lisbeth to smile, although she’s played by Claire Foy, recently of “First Man” and “The Crown,”or even to change the expression of dark anxiety that’s fixed on her face.
The stars were misaligned from the start for this frantic, turgid thriller. That’s no knock on Claire Foy, who might have surprised us if she’d had a different director working from a different script under a different set of studio imperatives that didn’t involve extracting blood from a very cold stone. The problem was the franchise having passed its expiration date without fresh ingredients to renew it. No Noomi Rapace, the actress who went her own way after establishing Lisbeth, in 2009, as the sensationally original heroine of three Swedish-language films adapted from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. No Rooney Mara, who played the role the following year in an English-language version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” And no more source material from Larsson, who died in 2004.
In the new script, based on a novel by David Lagercrantz (who based his book on Larsson’s characters), and under the coarse- textured direction of Fede Alvarez, Lisbeth has been transformed from tortured Goth and vengeful hacker to a cross between James Bond, or Jane Bondage, and a ninja warrior. At various points in the narrative she is beaten, stabbed (we see the wound on her shoulder being stapled back together), not-quite-lethally injected, gassed and shrink-wrapped. Lisbeth is asked to save civilization—the program to be purloined from the NSA has the potential to end life on earth—but she can’t save the film because there’s nothing for her to do but fight and suffer, suffer and fight, and there’s no one else to hold our interest, let alone catch our fancy. Lisbeth’s sister, Camilla, is a villain of thudding banality; she’s played by Sylvia Hoeks, who’s a victim in her own right. The score was composed by Roque Baños; it’s the musical equivalent of assault and battery.
I’m Joe Morgenstern. I’ll be back on KCRW next week with more reviews.