The Girl in the Spider’s Web tried to turn Lisbeth Salander into James Bond – but it didn’t work. Set after the events of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (but neither the Swedish language original or David Fincher version explicitly) the espionage thriller directed by Fede Álvarez skips over the next two books in series creator Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and instead adapts the fourth novel by David Lagercrantz. Álvarez ramped up the action and set Lisbeth on an adventure to stop a shadowy criminal organization called the Spiders from causing global nuclear armageddon. Suddenly, the girl with the dragon tattoo, now played by Golden Globe-winner Claire Foy, is literally saving the world. And it’s an odd fit, at best, for Lisbeth Salander.
When The Girl in the Spider’s Web begins, Lisbeth is already a vigilante in Stockholm, Sweden. Known as “the woman who hurts men who hurt women”, she applies her unmatched skills at hacking and surveillance to brutalize men who emotionally and sexually abuse women. This feels like a natural evolution of her character in the three years since she and her ex-lover, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), cracked the cold case of Harriet Vanger’s disappearance and brought her uncle Martin, the killer of numerous women, to justice. However, Spider’s Web kept changing Lisbeth and makes a hard pivot away from the dense character work and detailed investigation of previous films. Lisbeth is soon thrust into multiple fight scenes and chase sequences, and by the time Camilla Salander (Sylvia Hoeks) is revealed as the mastermind behind the Spiders’ plot, the Salander sisters are settling old family scores while literally holding the entire world’s nuclear arsenal in their hands.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web received brutal reviews and bombed with an opening weekend gross of only $8 million, so audiences clearly weren’t won over by the rebooted Lisbeth Salander. For fans who remember the character from any of the four previous films or from the best-selling novels, The Girl in the Spider’s Webtransforming the goth hacker into a 007-like action heroine felt like a very forced miscalculation. Here’s why Sony Pictures took the girl with the dragon tattoo in this new direction and why it failed.
WHY LISBETH SALANDER WAS TURNED INTO JAMES BOND
When The Girl in the Spider’s Web began production in the fall of 2017, Sony had already lost distribution rights to James Bond, which expired with Spectre in 2015. The studio had been the 007 films’ distributor since 2006’s Casino Royale, and the four films starring Daniel Craig as Bond were wildly successful, grossing over $3-billion combined. However, a bidding war in spring of 2017 for the prized James Bond rights were won by Universal (for international distribution) and MGM/Annapurna Films (for domestic distribution). In light of losing 007, it appears like Sony decided to resurrect the Dragon Tattoo franchise, which had been dormant since David Fincher’s high-profile film (which also starred Daniel Craig) underperformed in 2011, in a bid to craft their own, similarly-angled franchise.
It’s understandable why Sony Pictures felt like they had a natural replacement for James Bond in the Lisbeth Salander films. Both franchises are based on best-selling books and both star loners possessed of unique skills who work in exotic, international locales. The fact that Lisbeth is a unique feminist heroine also gives her an edge over the venerable 007 franchise – which regularly receives demands that James Bond be recast as a woman, a change Bond’s producers promise will never happen.
Since it had been seven years since Fincher’s film, it seemed like a reboot turning Lisbeth into an action hero would instantly create a new international spy franchise and another James Bond. In fact, Sony leaned very hard into making sure The Girl in the Spider’s Web hewed as close to two of their biggest successes, Skyfall andSpectre, as possible.
ALL THE JAMES BOND REFERENCES IN THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB
The James Bond parallels in The Girl in the Spider’s Web are glaringly obvious, starting with the villain, Camilla Salander, who essentially becomes Lisbeth’s version of 007’s arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). Just as Spectre retconned Blofeld into Bond’s adoptive brother and the “the author of all of [his] pain”, Camilla reveals herself to behind a malevolent revenge plot to frame Lisbeth for igniting nuclear armageddon. This enmity goes back to their childhood when Lisbeth ran away from home, leaving Camilla behind to be abused for 16 years by their evil crime lord father. By snorting crushed amphetamines, Lisbeth is also able to shake off being injected with a mysterious toxin with no ill effects, just like Bond shrugged off Blofeld’s neuro-chemicals during his attempted lobotomy.
But it’s Skyfall, Sony’s highest-grossing Bond film, that The Girl in the Spider’s Web seems to duplicate the most: Lisbeth improbably rides her motorcycle across a frozen lake to evade police whereas, in Skyfall, Bond has a lethal fight in a frozen lake. Blomkvist tries to get information from a man with a mysterious tattoo who then removes his nose to show whole parts of his face missing, just as Skyfall’s villain Silva (Javier Bardem) removed parts of his face in front of Bond and M (Judi Dench). Silva’s organization and Camilla’s Spiders display a mastery of technology and surveillance that even eclipses Lisbeth’s and MI-6’s. The biggest copy is Spider’s Web’s entire ultraviolent third act, which takes place at the dilapidated Salander family home, just like how Bond’s final battle with Silva takes place at Skyfall, the Bond family’s abandoned home. Lisbeth even burns down her house, and the memories it contains, just like Bond blew Skyfall up with explosives – a fiery severing of both of their links to their own origins.
By the end of The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Lisbeth even has her own version of Bond’s support team: in her tech supplier and fellow hacker Plague (Cameron Britton), she has her own Q (Ben Whishaw), plus she has an American ally, NSA agent Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), who becomes Lisbeth’s Felix Leiter stand-in. Of course, Lisbeth retains the loyalty of Mikael Blomkvist, her version of Miss Moneypenny.