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'The Girl in the Spider's Web' spins exotic thrills

Posted: 8:05 AM, Nov 09, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-09 10:05:31-05

Lisbeth Salander's superpower is making being a tech geek look gangsta.

She's always kicking hornets nests, playing with fire and jumping motorcycles over bridges. She beds more women than James Bond, sets up elaborate traps that would make Jigsaw blush, and manipulates online bank accounts like a fake Russian Facebook account does U.S. elections.

In "The Girl in the Spider's Web," Lisbeth does just what she's best at, which is being Lisbeth. The head-shaved, dragon tattoo-sporting shadow mercenary solves mysteries, outsmarts shady businessman, beats up their thugs and, especially, smolders in closeups.

Lisbeth endures in her fifth film despite changes in actresses, directors and even authors of source novels.

The new movie was adapted from the 2015 novel by David Lagercrantz, who took over the Millennium series after Stieg Larsson died and was hired by his family to continue the series.

Claire Foy, the Emmy-winning actress in Netflix's "The Crown," turns in a fiercely un-Queen Elizabeth II-like performance as Lisbeth, inhabiting the screen persona established by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish adaptations and Rooney Mara in David Fincher's 2011 English-language remake.

Director Fede Alvarez, who came of age making the horror films "Evil Dead" and "Don't Breathe," keeps the action flowing at a 5G pace while taking care to keep the tone measured and introspective. Lisbeth thrives on ever-so-slightly letting down her guard at times to show hints of fear, empathy and self-doubt, and it's in those moments that the character outshines the likes of James Bond and Jason Bourne.

The overcomplicated plot lives up to its title, with Lisbeth and journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrer Gudnanon) working together -- yet apart at texting distance -- to unravel a sinister plot that has framed Lisbeth for crimes that make her a marked woman by both the law and the underworld.

At the center of the back-and-forth is cyberwiz Frans Balder, who makes hacking look as dorky as it actually is. He's played by Stephen Merchant breaks his typecast as a funny know-it-all goofball to play a know-it-all goofball who isn't funny -- a software genius whose work has gotten out of control and promises to grant unholy powers over global infrastructure to the highest bidder. He pitches into the effort to help solve the problem of his own creation.

The heavy themes of abuse, retribution and manipulation that thrived in Larsson's work are at play once again, and even though the film has little new to say on the matters, they continue to provide the core of what drive's Lisbeth to her dizzying heights and tugs her to her torturous lows.

Indomitable yet just vulnerable enough to make you wince when she finds herself in too deep, Lisbeth is an easy heroine to root for, no matter how wacky and nonsensical her plots get. Oh, the mangled web she weaves.

RATING: 3 stars out of 4.

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