This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ is a Textbook Example of How Not to Reboot

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CREDIT: Reiner Bajo/Sony Pictures Entertainment

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Sylvia Hoeks, LaKeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps, Claes Bang

Director: Fede Álvarez

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Violence and Sexual Content, But Relatively Mild by This Series’ Standards

Release Date: November 9, 2018

Where do you go if you’re an iconic character whose creator isn’t around anymore? For the supernaturally proficient hacker Lisbeth Salander, that worry applies twofold. Stieg Larsson, the original author of the Millennium book series, passed away in 2004, with all three of his Salander-starring novels published posthumously. With the books proving immensely popular, the series was eventually continued about a decade later by David Lagercrantz with The Girl in the Spider’s Web and The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. I haven’t read Lagercrantz’ entries, so I don’t know how they compare to Larsson’s work, but I do know that they haven’t been the sensations that the originals were.

Similarly, the film edition of Spider’s Web is arriving with much less fanfare than David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptation (or even the Noomi Rapace-starring Swedish-language version). Dragon Tattoo got mostly strong reviews and cracked $100 million at the box office, but it proved to be too expensive and brutal to immediately continue on as a franchise. Still, it does director Fede Álvarez (Don’t Breathe, 2013’s Evil Dead remake) no favors to be working with a version of Salander that is so far removed from Larsson and Fincher’s conceptions. To be fair, in order to truly succeed, it would have to succeed, so the problem is really that Spider’s Web is ultimately too generic. Dragon Tattoo featured brutal, hard-to-watch moments of abuse, but they made for striking, unforgettable characters. Spider’s Web, alas, reduces Salander to a standard-issue avenging angel caught up in inscrutable international intrigue.

Don’t blame Claire Foy, who is certainly willing to be as unapologetic and deeply committed as is necessary to embody Salander. And don’t blame Sylvia Hoeks as Lisbeth’s long-lost sister or LaKeith Stanfield as an enterprising agent. (Sverrir Gudnason, however, is not a particularly inspiring Mikael Blomkvist.) But do blame the not-particularly-deep story they are caught up in. Ghosts from the past and not-so-legitimate government authorities have caused problems for Salander in the past, but this time, they do not offer much unique to say about the human condition.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is Recommended If You Like: Cookie-cutter sprawling mystery thrillers

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hacks

This Is a Movie Review: Palme d’Or Winner ‘The Square’ Skewers the Art World Savagely But Also Kind of Lovingly

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CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, Terry Notary

Director: Ruben Östlund

Running Time: 142 Minutes

Rating: R for Tourette’s-Fueled Potty Mouth, Outrageously Offensive Violence, and Dangerous Handling of a Condom

Release Date: October 27, 2017 (Limited)

A chimpanzee roommate walks around the apartment right before some hanky-panky is about to go down. A tug-of-war over a condom very nearly leads to some messy results. A shirtless performance artist acts like a gorilla for sanctioned live theater at a fundraiser dinner. For all the merciless weirdness that occurs in The Square, it is ultimately rather on-the-nose with the point it sets out to make.

The Palme d’Or winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, The Square is the latest satire from Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund. To American eyes, it may at first glance seem like the latest case of the Europeans going full-bore with their European wackiness. But to Scandinavian viewers who are likely more familiar with Östlund’s sensibility, this probably looks like a straightforward comedy of manners, if perhaps a bit overlong. Plus, if you can get past the subtitles (and a good chunk of the dialogue is in English anyway), it becomes a lot more accessible. Besides, there is a hardcore zing directed at Comic Sans, so it cannot be completely incomprehensible.

The major conflict involves the testing of museum curator Christian’s (Claes Bang) ideals after his wallet and cell phone are stolen. This actually serves as the perfect opportunity to test out the message of the installation piece by American artist Julian (Dominic West) that Christian is currently presenting. The piece, which gives the film its name, is designed as an area where trust between patrons is binding. It is a slice of society in which everyone is looking out for each other. When Christian distributes a letter throughout an apartment building requesting the quick return of his possessions, his thief actually complies, thus fulfilling the promise of The Square. Alas, as Christian has given his letter out to all the building’s residents, the parents of a preteen boy wrongfully punish him for the same theft. In turn, the boy becomes a steady vengeful thorn in Christian’s side, constantly threatening to “make chaos.” In addition to all that, Christian must deal with a viral video campaign to promote The Square that gets out of hand, as well as the fling he gets into with Anne (Elisabeth Moss), a journalist covering the opening, that develops beyond his emotional comprehension.

The Square is much stronger in its outsize moments of satire than in its more intimate moments. From the viral video that exploits the plight of the homeless by exploding a baby, to the man shouting misogynistic obscenities during an interview at the museum who claims to have Tourette’s, to the aforementioned ape-man performance artist who takes his routine way too far, these set pieces are all steady and effective in their outrageousness. But Christian’s more personal moments of crisis are harder to unpack for a clear meaning. His fight with the non-thief boy putters out unsatisfyingly and a little sickeningly, while his situation with Anne is just plain impossible to define, with Moss giving a performance that is solid but hard to pin down. Overall, The Square is an adventure of morality that will have you asking “How would I act in that situation?” and also, “Is it even worth it to entertain the possibility that I could ever end up in that situation?”

The Square is Recommended If You Like: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Art World but also making fun of the Art World

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Dirt Piles as Art