From Elizabeth to Lisbeth: Claire Foy transforms in “Spider’s Web”

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By Betsy M. Ross/staff writer

The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story

Rated R

1 hour, 57 minutes

Director: Fede Alvarez

Starring: Claire Foy, Sylvia Hoeks, Lakeith Stanfield

It’ll be hard to go to the cineplex this weekend without running into Claire Foy: While “First Man,” featuring Foy as astronaut Neil Armstrong’s wife, Janet, continues to show in theaters, her latest film, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” also hits the big screen this weekend. And the two characters could not be more opposite, with Foy switching from a 1960s housewife in “First Man” to a leather-wearing, Ducati-riding vigilante in “Spider’s Web.” 

And then, of course, there’s Foy on the small screen as the young Queen Elizabeth II in Nexflix’s “The Crown,” the role that made her a star in this country and earned her a Golden Globe, primetime Emmy and SAG award.

If you’re a fan of the writing of the late Stieg Larsson, you’re familiar with the history of this franchise. “Spider’s Web” is an adaptation of the 2015 novel by David Lagercrantz, which itself continues the “Millennium” trilogy by Larsson that started with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the basis of two movies, one Swedish-language and the other, featuring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara and released in 2011. 

The girl in question is Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker who has the reputation in her native Sweden of a righter of wrongs, especially for women facing abuse. While she may be a hacker with a heart of gold when it comes to domestic violence victims, she holds her own family secrets which tell us why this is such a personal cause for her.

While Mara’s “Dragon Tattoo” Salander was more cerebral, Foy’s version is much more physical, with a hint of James Bond gadgetry. Her fight scenes rival anything you’d see in the long-running spy franchise, and in fact, the opening sequence of “Spider’s Web” is reminiscent of the floating dreamscapes that intro a 007 feature. 

The Mara-Craig “Tattoo” adaptation garnered critical praise (and an Oscar nomination for Mara), but it wasn’t a hit at the box office so the sequels that had been promised after the first movie never happened—until now. “Spider’s Web” is worth the wait, with the new cast and new director (Fede Alvarez) breathing new life into the franchise. 

In “Spider’s Web” we learn more about Salander’s back story, which makes her character more empathetic, even as she’s being chased by both U.S. and Russian operatives over a military defense program she’d been hired to hack. She partners again with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played this time by Sverrir Gudnason from “Borg vs McEnroe”) but in this edition, there is no love story between the two. Still, both need each other—Salander to get her software back and Blomkvist, to revive his career.

Foy is almost unrecognizable from her Queen Elizabeth days as she dons war paint-like makeup when she goes on one of her vigilante runs, but once she washes it off she returns to her isolated life, blending into the crowd at the nightclub and finding a secluded corner where she can be anonymous once again. 

At just short of two hours, “Spider’s Web” takes you on a mile-a-minute thrill ride over the frozen Swedish landscape with a couple of story twists that will keep you guessing right to the end. If you saw “Dragon Tattoo,” you’ll be familiar with the story, but you don’t have to have seen the first version to enjoy this second installment. Foy is a revelation and just may be the action hero the franchise needs to finally deliver on its long-promised sequels.