Director: Fede Alvarez
Writers: Fede Alvarez, Steven Knight & Jay Basu, based on characters created by Stieg Larsson
Stars: Claire Foy, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant
So after kicking the hornet’s nest and playing with fire, the girl with the dragon tattoo – Lisbeth Salander – is back. This time in the guise of Claire Foy who is probably best known for her starring roles in TV period dramas like The Crown, Wolf Hall and Upstairs, Downstairs. The actress clearly wanted to do something different and by swapping corsets for corpses she has done just that. A lot of critics have complained that Foy is too empathetic in a role already made famous by Noomi Rapace in the original Swedish version and later by Rooney Mara in David Fincher’s Hollywood remake, but I can only see this as a positive aspect of this film. Lisbeth still has very few lines and a huge chip on her shoulder, but the decision to give her less facial piercings and let her keep her eyebrows goes a long way to helping the audience identify with her.
The Stieg Larsson novels were published posthumously after the author died when he was just 50. His publisher was in possession of a huge manuscript which she later chopped into three novels and hoped they might sell 10,000 copies to cover the publication costs, but to date they have sold in excess of 80 million, so it’s no wonder they wanted to keep this franchise alive, even if its author was not. So a fourth (and fifth) novel was written by David Lagercrantz using Larsson’s characters. Diehard fans were not impressed by in large, and the fact that the screenplay for this film messes with the canon of the original novels has upset them even further.
I haven’t read the new novels, and to be honest I wasn’t that impressed with the originals either. The stories are good, but they all need a hell of an edit. To the best of my memory, the first book starts with 20-30 pages of pointless information and after the story climaxes and the baddie gets his just desserts, the book goes on for a further 100 pages of tedious epilogue. So I won’t be judging this film on how well it stands up against the books, just how it stands up as a film.
And I think it does pretty well as an action/ thriller. The story begins with a scene from Lisbeth’s childhood, revealing yet another fetish that these books love to tell us is going on in Swedish homes right below our noses. Young Lisbeth escapes leaving her sister with her perverted father. Then we skip ahead to present day and Lisbeth is doing what she loves to do; making men who hurt women pay. It’s a nice introduction to the character for newbies, but somewhat misleading as she is then hired for some James Bond style espionage and what should be her character’s main focus is sidelined to the B story.
Stephen Merchant has escaped Ricky Gervais’s clutches and written a piece of software that can access any country’s nuclear launch system via a laptop, but he’s having Oppenheimer-levels of regret now, thinking this thing he created isn’t safe in anyone’s hands and should be destroyed. So he asks Lisbeth to steal it from the NSA server in Washington, which she quickly does, and then some very sinister parties come looking for it, and some not so sinister, like the Swedish government…
‘Who do you think should have it; the Americans who are involved in every war, or Sweden, who has never gone to war with anyone?’ I suppose you can’t argue with that logic.
Cue some nice action, explosions and chases on Lisbeth’s famous motorcycle, on foot, and in a lovely Lamborghini Aventador. About half way through the movie things take another twist as someone from Lisbeth’s past shows up also wanting this software – go on, guess who it is!
OK, so the movie isn’t perfect. Some things you can see coming a mile away, and you could argue that Lisbeth’s ease at hacking anything with a microchip makes life very easy for her, but the film rattles along at a great pace and certainly from a commercial point of view I think it’s more accessible to the masses. Much as I think Fincher is a genius, I wouldn’t be surprised if this beats his adaptation at the box office just because it isn’t as bleak.
I must flag up a pet peeve of mine at this point: stupid kids in movies. You know that scene in nearly every thriller where the adult says: ‘Just stay here and you’ll be safe,’ and as soon as the adult is out of sight the kid moves towards danger right away, quite often for no apparent reason. I see this so often in films and TV shows and it drives me nuts! It’s really lazy storytelling. It happens in this film, too, and the kid in question is supposed to be a genius, but when his phone rings and the caller ID says it’s someone the kid saw with his brains blown out a few hours earlier, he doesn’t for a second think this might be an attempt to track him, he just answers expecting the dead man to be on the other end of the phone! Come on!!!!
Stupid kid aside, I enjoyed this incarnation of Stieg Larsson’s anti-heroine. The action scenes are well executed and the plot weaves like a Lamborghini through Sunday drivers. The end mirrors the beginning, leaving a big plot strand open and paving the way for a sequel if this one should deliver at the box office. I hope it does, as I could quite happily sit through another adventure with Lisbeth.