The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

I was rather surprised how successful this was, and how much I enjoyed it. Something of a sequel and reboot for the franchise, following the original three films starring Noomi Rapace and the Western remake of the first of that trilogy,  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by David Fincher that starred Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Phew, that’s seems a little complicated looking back on it- and rather symptomatic of the state of the film industry these days. Its enough to make this latest film seem rather cynical.

Which does hang over the whole enterprise. Based on a book by David Lagercrantz, in turn based on characters in the original book series by the late Stieg Larsson, the whole thing is an attempt to extend the original book series and films beyond it- a little like James Bond books and films running far beyond the passing of Bond creator Ian Fleming. Characters can so easily gain an immortality of their own far beyond that of original creators, and while it may have noble intentions there is always a sniff of opportunism and money-making in things like this. Its also rather true that in this film, and possibly the original book, there seems a concious intention to shift away from the dark character-based intensity of the Larsson originals and towards a larger espionage/James Bond thriller vibe- perhaps a little like the Jason Bourne franchise. It does feel a little incongruous for Lisbeth here to be drawn into a thriller about a program that can seize control of the world’s nuclear arsenals and leave the world ransom to armageddon- it really does feel more like the plot of a Bond movie.

Which might be a good thing, I don’t know. I certainly quite enjoyed it, because it did seem to be stretching the character a little  and pushing the boundaries- but does it do that too much? I guess that’s more a question for die-hard fans of the Larsson originals to ponder.

Taking over the role of Lisbeth Salander here is Claire Foy, which really seemed a bit of a stretch to me when I became aware of the casting but I have to say it works quite well. There’s a few peculiar moments where Foy seems to suddenly channel the Queen from Netflix’s The Crown (an occasional inflection of her voice, or flash of her eyes, sometimes) but on the whole she’s really intense and surprisingly successful, She manages the physical moments very well too- certainly a far cry from Little Dorrit.

Less successful, and very surprisingly so really, is Sylvia Hoeks as Camilla Salander, the main villain of the film and sister of our heroine. Hoeks was simply brilliant as Luv in BR2049, a really quite complex and nuanced character/performance but here she does seem to simply be a blonde Luv, reprising that role alarmingly in what feels a one-note performance. In Hoeks defence, I suspect it’s more the limitations of the part as written, leaving her little else to really do with it, but its similarity to her character in BR2049 is really disappointing. When I saw her name in the credits my interest in the film was raised considerably as I’ve not seen her in anything else other than BR2049 and I was really curious to see her possibly surprise me, but alas, no, this really is just more of the same.

I gather the box-office returns from this film were quite poor so we are unlikely to see Foy reprise the role in future installments. Perhaps the intent to reboot the series into another film franchise with yet another cast was perceived as cynical and ill-judged, and  got the rewards it deserved.  For myself, the quality of the film (it’s a pretty successful, albeit routine, old-fashioned thriller, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that in a cinema swamped by superhero caped crusaders etc) seemed pretty decent and I found myself enjoying it much more than I had expected. It does make me wonder if sometimes films such as this might be budgeted too highly – I suppose the purported budget of $43 million might seem fairly low in the great scheme of $150 million blockbusters but its returns of just $35 million (with marketing costs etc the film must have been a bit of a bomb financially) would suggest the market simply isn’t strong enough to support films budgeted like this.  If this is indeed the case then its an unfortunate state of affairs, and possibly suggests this kind of thriller might in future be relegated to Netflix/Amazon productions- which is a little sad, to consider that traditional cinema is no longer the place for thrillers like this.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest – Extended Version (2009)

nest1

2016.73: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest – Extended Version (Blu-ray)

So the Millennium Trilogy draws to a close with this the final film. This extended version features about an half-hour of extra footage, so the difference is more akin to that of the first film than the substantial additions to the second one. That said, watching the films in quick succession really benefits this final entry. References are made to characters and events from the two previous films and I must confess that when I first saw this film years ago, it left me rather non-plussed;  not really a fault of the film but as a non-reader of the original books, a lot of it was lost on me having had so much time between movies. Its clearly an advantage to serial-based films such as this when watched as part of a complete boxset.

Having watched the three extended films now, its been something of a surprise to me how prescient some of the themes and fears raised by these films have been. What began in the first film as a dark murder mystery with subversive sexual undertones has by the end become an almost existential crisis of conspiracies and abuse of power, finally undermined by investigative journalism and the efforts of a lone individual outside ‘ordinary’ society. Its also rather a critique of sexual politics, of the abuse of women by men and the rising power of women to fight that abuse. A far cry from that dead/missing girl in that first film (and I do wonder how on earth Hollywood would have approached these last two films).

Indeed I do think the trilogy, especially in its ‘complete’ extended form, is a major piece of work and it’s sad to think it’s probably more valid now than it was even seven years ago.

As with the previous two films, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, this film is surprisingly non-conformist in structure and how it tells its story. Tellingly, the two protagonists are again pretty much separated throughout the film, and for what seems most of the film Lisbeth Salander is confined to a hospital bed. By this time of course the characters are pretty well established and this film benefits from the shorthand granted by having two previous films set things up. The film is tense and full of twists and turns, and unfolds the layers of mystery in the same fine fashion as the previous two films did. Its a great, very adult, thriller and a fine conclusion to the series (if it is a conclusion; I heard whispers years ago of further unpublished work by the deceased author Stieg Larsson, but as it never since arose I assume this is it unless some American studio gets away with making a spin-off tv series or some other calamity).

As usual for these films it is the characters that are triumphant, for all the horrors and scandals that the films depict. These are adult characters, life-worn and beaten, victims and villains, heroes and saviours. Integrity and goodness seems to triumph, but is this only because of where the film chooses to end? We have the impression of life moving on, the world rolling onward, and have to wonder how long it will be before there are fresh corporate and political monsters to be uncovered in the shadows.

The Girl Who Played with Fire – Extended Version (2009)

fire12016.72: The Girl Who Played with Fire- Extended Version (Blu-ray)

Following on from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this film digs more deeply into the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander and her own mysterious past that unfolds here in a similar manner to the murder/incest mystery of the first film, but benefits by being more ‘personal’. Its another great performance from Noomi Rapace that clearly demonstrates how wasted she has been in Western movies since. Again, as with the first film, whatever the merits of the mysteries and crimes that are examined, the real reward here is in the characters and their fascinating arcs.

And with this extended version, there’s simply more of it, indeed a lot more, as I believe this version is close to an hour longer than the theatrical edit originally released over here. There was clearly a lot of material cut that frustrated fans of the book. Interestingly, the two leads, Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist, are separated pretty much throughout the film, which is an interesting if non-traditional dynamic that is rather at odds with how film dramas are usually constructed. They approach the central mystery from opposite points of view, and both investigations unfold seperate from the other and nonetheless inform each other from the audience point of view.

General opinion ranks this film significantly lesser than the first film, but I rather liked it, particularly in this ‘fuller’ version that somehow made more sense and is richer for the additional details. I thought in the first film the central mystery was almost incidental to the more interesting character dynamics, and with this story more closely concerned with Salander and her mysterious past, this mystery feels more rewarding and intimate.

Watching the films over successive days also helps keep the various arcs and plot threads fresh in your head too, so I certainly got more from this film than did when I first saw it several years ago (and months after the first film). The reveals regards Salander’s tortured past informs events and actions in the first film too. So yes, it’s a very interesting central film in the trilogy, and greatly improved by the extended running time.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo- Extended Version (2009)

drag22016.71: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo- Extended Version  (Blu-Ray)

Packaged as part of the Millennium trilogy box, this is the first part of the trilogy and the only one of the books/films currently to have been (ill-advisedly) remade in the West. As I haven’t read the books, and having seen the theatrical cut some years ago now,  I couldn’t tell you what the real differences are between that edition and this extended one, other than note something like thirty minutes additional running time. Its just been too long since I saw that original edition. Some scenes certainly seemed new to me but I couldn’t be sure- at any rate the film doesn’t at all drag even with that extra half-hour so that should be some indication to how well implemented the extra scenes are and how integral they are to the plot. Of course, part of my confusion no doubt results from memories of David Fincher’s later remake; there are two previous versions floating dimly in my memory with different casts and locations, a uniquely confusing situation. Indeed, watching this extended original has me rather keen to revisit that Fincher version to compare the two.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is based on the bestselling novel by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, the first of three books (and now films) in the “Millennium Trilogy”. Larsson was a journalist who turned to novelizations late in his career,and who died from a heart attack at the relatively young age of 50, adding a certain mystique to the author and the books, which became something of a publishing phenomenon.  Screen versions were inevitable, but it was rather fitting that before Hollywood came calling the Swedes got to make their own version, pretty much filmed in the same locations as the book was set. With a native cast and language, the films were pretty much definitive and faithful, particularly in their full, extended versions as presented here.

rag1Some years having now passed since those heady days of publishing-world hysterics when everyone was reading the books or watching the theatrical editions of the film versions, its easier to evaluate the achievement here. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a fine, taut thriller with a compelling mystery and great central characters, and surprisingly dark for a mainstream piece. Indeed, it’s the characters that are the most rewarding here, making for rather unusual protagonists- a middle-aged journalist and an introverted, antisocial 24-year old computer hacker.The investigation is almost incidental; the plot is clearly servicing the characters and their dynamics, setting things up for the later books/films, so in some ways it’s actually difficult to judge this film as a seperate entity.  Inevitably that lends this version an advantage over the Fincher remake that failed to get its own sequels. That one perhaps stands forever isolated, while this one leads to The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, two films filmed back to back soon after the first (all three made over a year-long period).

At any rate, this is an extended version that does seem to add to the original edit and it certainly doesn’t suffer from a slower pace or dragging scenes/superfluous nonsense that some extended cuts suffer from. It all works so well you rather wonder how they managed to edit things down for the theatrical cut, or indeed what was cut at all. So yes, this does seem to be the superior version, and is thoroughly enjoyable (albeit it remains a rather disturbing slice of humanity, so maybe ‘enjoyable’ isn’t really the right word).