The essence of Lisbeth Salander is in her ability to be almost detached from her emotional state. Her effectiveness is based on her coldness. “The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo” operated in this world in an almost uncomfortable way, as is the nature of David Fincher’s approach in many of his films to human behavior. “The Girl In The Spider’s Web” is a much more mainstream approach and, while not as starkly original as the previous entry, is nevertheless very effective in its point. Claire Foy, mostly known recently for her work on “The Crown”, obviously does a 180 pivot but her Salander never feels as lived in as Rooney Mara’s version. She is nonetheless again very specific and effective in the role but in a more mainstream way. The triggers of the script especially in the logistics of certain sequences are quite good. Even though this film was made for a price versus “Dragon Tattoo” including lesser known actors, the script doesn’t betray that. Like the vastly inferior “Snowman”, “Web” does capture Stockholm & Scandinavia quite well. The only idea that has a little bit to move on is the assumption that most of the audience knows some of the story with Mikael Blomquist (played by Daniel Craig in the previous version) which came before.
The focus here is family and a NSA defense mechanism that offers a good amount of power to whoever possesses it. The mechanics of how that is revealed and tested is both sloppy and oddly consistent at the same time. Director Fede Alvarez, who directed the “Evil Dead” remake and “Don’t Breathe” has a steady hand and doesn’t move away from the grotesque but also plays for the most part within the lines which should provide some response from audiences. The stand out simply because she can disappear so well is Sylvia Hoeks who was undeniably luminous in her darkness within “Blade Runner 2049”. Here she plays the sister of Lisbeth: Camilla through which there is undeniable pain and darkness which makes itself known as the story progresses (while also being its framing mechanism). Hoeks will eventually be given her own platform in the next couple years because her character work can be stunning. “The Girl In The Spider’s Web” is effective and offers a more accessible vision into the Lisbeth Salander universe with a paced and detailed story and some good character turns despite some lapses in progression.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of “The Predator” is edified within the sense of its relevance to pop culture tendencies versus creating a sense of fear and elation. While this inclination does improve and rank itself as the best in the past decades, it still pales to the original “Predator” and, in some senses, “Predator II”. The one aspect that definitely gives it the best structure since the original is the poppy dialogue which is obviously a Shane Black trademark. The irony is that those quips that were great in the 80s almost ride the line too much today causing readings at times to be more awkward than funny. In a way, this outing becomes more of a sardonic reflection of itself. The characters are big and the misfit dream team led by Boyd Holbrook does have its moments but there is never a sense of stake at all. There is some loss with some of the members but nothing as edgy as Carl Weathers or Bill Duke in the original.
Writer/Director Shane Black was in the original so he understands that texture of balance but John McTiernan had a sense of the real within the gallows. “The Hunt For Red October” ran in a similar vibe. This is not those films. The tone here is all over the place with certain moments playing better than others. Sequences like the initial one inside a medical lab or a face off on top of an RV have a playful sense to them but feel, almost in effect, like a TV movie version of “Predator” with the profanity setting turned on. In all shapes and sizes despite respect for trying to give a new audience a “Predator” for its time, this outing, while definitely fun at times, still feels remarkably flat. Even the resolution requires a plot suspension that doesn’t connect. While ending up creating a concept in essence that gives the story an interesting dilemma to behold for a continuation yet no reason for its actual intention, “The Predator”, despite its best attempt, does not fit the bill.
By Tim Wassberg
“The MEG” is a monster movie in perception of what it might be. The book it is based on, by local South Florida writer Steve Alten, works in many structures as a quick read with a pulpy sort of feel. The tricky aspect is finding the tone. Like “Sahara” and its protagonist before, it is taking larger-than-life situations and making them both fun and with stakes. “The MEG” was originally labeled to be an R-rated romp probably playing more to its cousin: “Deep Blue Sea”. Granted it would be a different movie but the ideal is the story is about a huge shark. The tone rings closer to a movie like “The Core” which is superior in many ways simply because the stakes feel higher. The characterizations here are not bad but played way up on the cheesiness factor, specifically with the Chinese characters. Granted the sentimentality is more akin to the tone of Chinese cinema. That is the interesting perception here of the film. Since it was financed heavily by Chinese investment, it needs to reflect that ideal. This is the changing economics of the movie business. The movie is also set on the cusp of Asia and its main female protagonist and center of what is the film’s heart is Chinese. This is not originally how the book was conceived. It was set near San Diego even though the money of the big investor was Chinese (even though the big money here is shown by an American billionaire). While an interesting experiment, the film definitely loses a lot of what edge it could have had but then it would be a different monster.
The interesting business question, just to make the point, is that the film could have been made for less and thereby not have to make as much to break even. This is an interesting quandary. Star Jason Stathan has stated in the press that the script they made was completely different than the movie he originally signed on for. Some of the scenes are really thrilling to be honest but never scary. It almost feels like a lower budget serial of old. Acting is fairly broad but soft in many ways since the dialogue is so matter-of-fact. It tries to be witty but most times falls flat. Granted many in the audience seemed to enjoy this aspect. It is always a tricky thing between criticism of what a movie can be and what an audience actually responds to. The situations in the movie are mostly implausible but that can be suspended from the early scenes. An interesting comparison comes in when looking “The Abyss” (1989, dir. James Cameron) since some of the scene points in “The MEG” have parallels. Even though something similar happens here, nothing can compare to the resuscitation scene in that former movie. Some of the best acting in a would-be summer blockbuster ever was in that scene. Here, in the beginning (post opening credits), there is a sacrifice that works well (but on a smaller scale) but then goes by the wayside. Greater mythology is sacrificed and the movie, while a fun romp at times, feels emptier of a bigger world. Maybe that is an alright resolution and expectation though.
By Tim Wassberg