Movie reviews: 'The Girl in the Spider's Web' is a thriller set to slow simmer
Film critic and pop culture historian Richard Crouse shares his take on four movies opening in cinemas across Canada this weekend: Lisbeth Salander's return in "The Girl in the Spider's Web," zombie-war flick "Overlord," neo-noir "The Padre" and the historical epic "Outlaw King."
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB: 2 ½ STARS
Lisbeth Salander is back. The lead character in the Millennium film and novel series, she's the leather-clad computer hacker with a large tattoo of a dragon on her back, an eidetic memory, and, if you are a movie fan, an ever switching identity. The look — dyed black hair, body piercings — hasn't changed but the actresses playing her have.
Noomi Rapace became famous playing her in the Swedish franchise and Rooney Mara was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress as Salander in 2011's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Now another face takes on the role. In "The Girl In The Spider's Web" Clair Foy trades the tiaras and trinkets of "The Crown" for cyber criminals and car chases.
Since we've seen her last Salander has been exacting a very specific kind of revenge. Using her hacking skills and some other, more physical life hacks, she, as a self-styled righter-of-wrongs, evens the score between cheating husbands and their wives.
Her life is thrown into chaos when she gets a call from her handler. "There is a client asking for the impossible. Interested?" Of course she is. It's ex-NSA employee Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) who created a power program called Firefall. It can't be reproduced, only moved. Balder has lost control and wants it back. In the wrong hands a single user on a single computer could "be imbued with Godlike powers.”
She agrees and easily steals the program, but when she misses the drop-off Balder thinks she's going rogue and alerts law enforcement. Her involvement also attracts the attention of The Spiders, a terror group who want the program and want her out of the picture. With NSA agent Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield) and journalist, — and former Salander love interest — Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) on the case, things get complicated, especially when it turns out the big bad villain may have a direct link to Salander's troubled past.
"The Girl In The Spider's Web" is a thriller set to a slow simmer. The action comes in bursts, a car chase or an exploding building, followed by lots of atmosphere and shots of Salander's brooding face. The Millennium film franchise are dark thrillers with overtones of murder, pedophilia, incest and even self surgery and while all those elements are on display here the tone of the film feels different than the previous films.
Set in Sweden, with all the trappings of an icy Nordic noir, the new film feels more American in its style. Salander is a little too much like James Bond and not enough like Lisbeth Salander. Foy is up to the task, but the character, once edgy and daring, has become a Ducati-straddling superhero. In addition to being a world-class hacker she's also a skilled hand-to-hand combat artist with a web of icy blonde girlfriends to do her bidding and a way with a Taser.
But sometimes she's a little too capable. An escape on a bridge works simply because it has too. Not because it makes sense. Her operations are timed with split second precision. There's no real sense of danger, just boilerplate thrills. Things blow up real good but by the tenth time Salander has too easily and conveniently tamed an out-of-control situation you wonder why she's wearing black leather and not spandex and a cape.
And don't get me started on Blomkvist. Once a layered, interesting character, he's there simply because he's always been there.
"The Girl In The Spider's Web" is a serviceable action thriller with enough action to entertain the eye but too many twists and turns coupled with drab characters it feels generic when it should make your heart race.
OVERLORD: 3 ½ STARS
If I have one complaint about "Overlord" it's that there aren't enough Nazi zombies. The J.J. Abrams production is a smart addition to the sub-sub-sub-sub genre of undead Third Reich films but plays more like one of those episodes of "The Walking Dead" where they talk about the zombies as much, if not more, then battle them.
The film begins with the stuff of 100 war movies. A platoon of young American soldiers, some cocky, some terrified, are aboard a plane. It's June, 1944, just hours before D-Day. Their mission? Locate and bomb a tower located on the top of a church in a tiny French town. Why did the Nazis put this tower on top of the church? "Because they're evil SOBs."
When their plane takes serious fire from the Germans the paratroopers bail. A small number of them, including newbie Pvt. Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell), the de facto leader with 1000 yard stare, gunner (Rosenfeld Dominic Applewhite), war photographer Chase (Iain De Caestecker) and loud mouth Tibbet (John Magaro)—survive the perilous parachute jump into German occupied France. On the ground they dodge bullets and the enemy before connecting with Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a French woman who lives with her brother (Gianny Taufer) and aunt in their target town.
There they come into contact with the local SS commander Wafner (Pilou Asbæk) and, after some grizzly discoveries in a Nazi lab, learn of a nefarious plan to create "the blood of eternity" which gives anyone injected with it super strength, immunity to pain and a really bad attitude. "A thousand year Reich needs thousand year soldiers," snarls Wafner. Question is, the Americans survive the jump, landmines and regular Nazis but can they survive Nazi Zombies?
"Overlord" is a hybrid of styles. An old-school war film meets zombie action film is given a Lovecraftian bio-horror twist courtesy of a Josef Mengelesque evil Nazi scientist. It's pure exploitation; a movie that drips with chemically engineered blood and guts. Director Julius Avery embraces the pulp aspects of the story, from the stereotypically cocky soldier Tibbet to the heroic Ford to the pure evil of Wafner ("They have been given a purpose," he says. "They will contribute in ways you can't imagine."). Combined, it adds up to a heightened experience that delivers within the confines of the zombie genre. If only there had been more zombies.
THE PADRE: 2 ½ STARS
"The Padre," a neo-noir starring Nick Nolte, Tim Roth, Luis Guzmán and newcomer Valeria Henriquez, is the story of a trio of opportunists all headed to the same place, all searching for something different.
Henriquez is Lena, a young determined Columbian girl trying to find a way to get to Minnesota. "First God takes her parents, " says a friend, "and then a family in Minnesota takes her sister. Like they bought her on the internet." Lena sees the Padre (Roth), a white man with some money, as her ticket to the United States and being reunited with her sister. She becomes his apprentice, a toughie with an attitude and an aptitude for grifting. Hot on their heels are retired U.S. Marshall Nemes (Nick Nolte) and local cop Gaspar (Guzmán). For Nemes, the hunt is as much personal as it is professional. "He needs to pay. Then I die happy. I lashed my hate to a spear I aimed at his heart," he grumbles.
"The Padre" ambles its way through the lives of the main players, slowly closing the gap between the hunters and the hunted. The three above the title stars, Nolte, Roth and Guzmán, deliver in familiar roles — Nolte is once again the grizzled face of law enforcement, Roth is another skeevy character while Guzmán plays a convincing second fiddle — but it is Henriquez who steals the show. She is at once gritty and vulnerable, a girl born of poverty who has had to survive by her wits. Henriquez pulls it off and emerges as the film's most interesting character.
Shot in Colombia, "The Padre" is beautiful looking, a sun-dappled noir that pops with colour. Director Jonathan Sobol has an eye for the locations, it's just too bad the story isn't as colourful as the setting.
OUTLAW KING: 3 STARS
Chris Pine's new movie "Outlaw King" is set in the 14th Century, but the true tale of Scottish king Robert The Bruce's defeat of the much larger English army has a timely message of resistance.
It begins in 1303 with Bruce (Pine) and other Scottish noblemen begrudgingly pledging allegiance to Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane). As days and months pass, Bruce and his countrymen become less and less tolerant of English rule, bristling at paying taxes to a king who does nothing for them. Taking his rightful crown as King of Scotland, Bruce puts his wife (Florence Pugh) and child (Josie O'Brien) into hiding and cobbles together a small rag tag army, including his two bravest warriors Angus Macdonald (Tony Curran) and James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), to fight for Scottish Independence against the dictatorial King and his hot-blooded son, the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle).
"Outlaw King" is a historical epic that feels both modern and intimate. Director David Mackenzie doesn't spare the spectacle — at one point early on Edward announces, "Friends, join us. We have a spectacle!" — but he makes sure to infuse the story with character building moments and personal details to give us a sense of who Bruce is beyond an expert in carnage. Pine humanizes the great warrior, placing him in the context of a family man who risks everything to forward his cause.
The humanity on display in "Outlaw King" is all well and good, but it is the battle scenes you'll remember. An orgy of blood and broken bones, they are up-close-and-personal, not-for-the-weak-of-stomach. Also, horse lovers beware. They are visceral, realistic and fulfill the early promise of spectacle.
Richard Crouse shares a toast with celebrity guests and pundits on the talk show Pop Life on CTV NewsChannel and CTV. Catch up on all the entertainment news, reviews and interviews at the Pop Life website.
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