Sunday 25 November 2018

The Girl in the Spider's Web by Alvarez, Knight, Lagercrantz et al

One of my all time favourite movies is David Fincher's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Expertly scripted by Steve Zaillian, it was supposed to be the first of three films based on Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, charting the adventures of Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous tattooed girl.

However, Fincher's film wasn't considered lucrative enough by the bean counters, so the sequels never materialised. Which, considering the quality of the first movie, was heartbreaking.

Well, now we move from broken hearts to dropping jaws as, to my astonishment, a sequel does turn up — seven years later. And, against all the odds, it's a worthy successor.

I say against all the odds because Fincher isn't involved, the cast and crew are entirely different, and it isn't even based on a Stieg Larsson novel. 

After Larsson's appallingly unjust early demise it looked like the Millennium series would be truncated at three volumes. But, modern publishing and eternal human greed being what they are, a dead author was no serious obstacle and another Swedish journalist, David Lagercrantz, was commissioned to continue the adventures of Lisbeth Salander.

I never bothered reading his 2015 novel, The Girl in the Spider's Web, but I was sufficiently intrigued by the movie version starring Claire Foy to catch an early screening.

And it completely knocked me out. It's a true sequel to the 2011 film, clearly showing the influence of David Fincher's work, right from the nightmarish James Bond style title sequence.

The film is brilliantly directed by Fede Alvarez who smartly channels  Fincher's sensibility. Alvarez previously co-wrote and directed the 2013 remake of The Evil Dead, which was sort of okay, and the suspense thriller Don't Breathe, which was absolutely terrific (one of my runners-up for the best films of 2016).

The other screenplay credits on The Girl in the Spider's Web are both British scriptwriters: Jay Basu who worked on the fun little sports drama Fast Girls and Steven Knight, who is one of my heroes. Knight wrote the big screen masterpieces Locke and Allied and created the TV show Peaky Blinders.

The music for The Girl in the Spider's Web is by Alvarez's regular composer Roque BaƱos and the cinematographer is another frequent collaborator Pedro Luque — and the film looks magnificent.

Claire Foy is superb as Lisbeth Salander in the new film. She has the same Goth waif quality as Rooney Mara did in Fincher's movie — both of them quite different from the admirable Noomi Rapace in the 2009 Swedish film version.

The Girl in the Spider's Web sets Salander in opposition to her sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), who is a kind of anti-Lisbeth, very girlie, with her longer blonde hair and all dressed in white. Hoeks is great casting; she was superlative and scary as Luv the replicant in Blade Runner 2049. (She looks so different here that I didn't recognise her.)

The film has has some flaws. Its plot revolves around a cyber MacGuffin which puts the world at risk (yawn). And there's a scene where Salander disables the bad guys' car, leaving them helpless; it's an ideal opportunity to finish them off, but she doesn't.

The Lisbeth Salander I know wouldn't have hesitated. But this seems to be a deliberate decision, with Salander for the most part stalking through the story and applying non-lethal weapons on her adversaries. But the film is none the worse for that.

In fact, it's stupendous. A dark Christmas delight. I urge you to see it.

Now... I have to go and see it again myself. And check out Lagercrantz's novel.

(Image credits: a fine selection of stylish posters at Imp Awards.)

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