Film - The Girl in the Spider's Web - Salander has a new relevance and a promising future
When Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) steals back Frans Balder's (Stephen Merchant) pervasive weapons program from the National Security Agency, so that its penitent creator can destroy his work and spare the world its undoing, the software is subsequently stolen from her apartment by a terrorist cell known as The Spiders. As N.S.A. agent Edwin Needham (LaKeith Stanfield) and the Swedish Security Service battle over jurisdiction, Lisbeth seeks help from investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) and fellow hacker Plague (Cameron Britton) in tracking down the crime syndicate, which they soon discover has links to Lisbeth's late father (Mikael Persbrandt) and her estranged sister (Sylvia Hoeks).
What is the Millennium Series? The chances are that most people, even those sitting down to watch the latest installment, The Girl in the Spider's Web, would struggle not just to give an answer but to properly comprehend the question. Essentially it's a series of three novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, published posthumously, which introduced the world to Lisbeth Salander: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. However, it also comprises a Swedish film trilogy recut as a television miniseries, an American remake and a belated sequel that is simultaneously a soft reboot and a loose continuation. To confuse things further, The Girl in the Spider's Web doesn't adapt any of the original novels but a fourth book written by another author entirely.
That Fede Álvarez so effortlessly reintroduces Lisbeth for the purposes of his film is both testament to the director's talents and the root of his film's most divisive issue. As embodied by Claire Foy, he envisions a more streamlined and sentimental take on the character, now more like a patron saint than a apathetic sociopath, which rounds off some of the less enigmatic aspects of her personality and casts her in a much more conventionally heroic mold. Once a survivor Lisbeth now resembles a superhero, able to avoid injury, avert disaster and, in the film's most perplexing scene, counter the effects of a sedative with elixir-like amphetamine, seemingly without cost. For fans of the character, this likely constitutes something of a travesty; a bastardisation of the core tenants of her personality and a betrayal of everything she represents.
While it is undoubtedly a little strange seeing technopunk hacker Salander superglue her wounds shut it is also exciting to see an esoteric Scandinavian curiosity break out of the foreign and arthouse subcultures and hack a general audience. Just as no franchise is truly immune to the law of diminishing returns, no hero or heroine is so well-defined that their essence isn't diluted by repeated appearances in sequels and spin-offs. With so many degrees of separation from Larsson's source material it shouldn't be surprising that Lisbeth has become a shadow of her former self, and neither should it be an issue. It’s part of the process of transcending character to become an archetype, and has happened to many — mostly male — protagonists prior. Foy's approach to the character may be less challenging or contradictory than Noomi Rapace or Rooney Mara's incarnations, but Lisbeth is rendered more sympathetic and engaging as a result — she has been immortalised.
Yes, The Girl in the Spider's Web is ridiculous and contrived and overblown, but that hardly matters when, like James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun, Lisbeth Salander has survived the franchise that made her. The character’s free to evolve, to find new meaning and relevance, and to live on into the future. Just as he did with 2013's Evil Dead, Álvarez has deftly and dauntlessly updated a cult classic for modern audiences, ultimately succeeding at the task set him. Purists will balk, but everyone will talk -- and that's how icons are born.