Spider-Girl: Claire Foy and Fede Alvarez reboot the Nordic noir Millennium series

Movies Features

Is the world ready for “a feminist Batman”?

That’s how director Fede Alvarez describes his new heroine, anyway—and personally, he thinks her appearance is long overdue.

Audiences will soon get to decide for themselves when they see the Uruguayan filmmaker’s most ambitious project yet, Sony’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web. A fresh take on the Nordic noir series, it stars Claire Foy (“The Crown”) as cyber-vigilante Lisbeth Salander—and her take-no-prisoners rage feels particularly made for this newly empowering time.

“Honestly, I think the things these books represent have always been relevant,” says Alvarez, 40. “We actually had our script ready before the #MeToo movement really happened. But there’s definitely something in the zeitgeist, the collective consciousness—people are finally listening to women’s struggles—and in this movie we wanted to take care of things in a different way.”

So, developing this story—which features righteous justice, masked assassins, a stolen weapons program and an old family tragedy—meant having Lisbeth take the lead.

“This is the first movie that’s really about her,” Alvarez says. “The other stories, it’s the reporter Blomkvist who’s your way in. Lisbeth shows up, and tags along and becomes part of his story but it’s never really her story—he has the big arc, you stay in his head. This time, though, he falls into her story—it’s really about her. You get into her head and you see the story through her eyes. And so you get to know her in a way you didn’t before.”

It’s an all-new cast, with Foy now the third actress to play the role, after Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara. The iconography and attitude of the character remain the same, however. Lisbeth’s fond of punkish black leather, piercings, tattoos and computer hacking. She’s coolly contained, sexually liberated, physically fit and fearless—in one of the film’s most stunning scenes, she races her motorcycle across a barely frozen lake, as the ice begins to crack beneath her.

She never hesitates. And the film mirrors Lisbeth’s calm confidence throughout by refusing to leer at her, or treat her as some sort of kick-butt sex object.

“That was the thing, and Claire was the main guardian of that,” Alvarez says. “We were careful never to exploit her that way, to pretty her up, to put on too much makeup. She gets in fights, she gets messed up, and that’s how it’s presented. I mean, in the Bourne movies, Matt Damon doesn’t always look amazing, you know? And that was the idea here—to be fair to Lisbeth. Not to just reduce her to this sexy character in tight pants.”

The result is a film that fully fits into the “Dragon Tattoo” universe, yet bears the personal stamp of its new director.

“This was the chance to work on a much bigger canvas, but like any of my other movies, I had full creative control,” he says happily. “I came in, and there was an amazing draft, but then I was allowed to write a script and empower the aspects that felt relevant to me, to explore the themes—shame, and secrets, very basically—that felt important to me. The secrets we keep—it’s never because we’re proud of them, you now. And you hold them inside and you become a victim of that, until you finally confront it, and try to atone for it. Those are the sort of stories I gravitate to.”

And that’s a personal approach that, he says, the “Dragon Tattoo”/Millennium series has always made room for.

“The original Swedish films—these were not run-of-the-mill movies done by some studio,” he notes. “The last film—I mean, David Fincher is not just some director for hire. I know studios, they can be such big machines. And I knew, going into this, fans would be watching me very carefully, too.  But I thought, this is a good problem in a way because, before you even do it, it means you’re doing something that people care about. And in the end, I still made the film I wanted.”

It’s definitely a film with its own striking visuals. The palette is gloomy and monochromatic—black and white and grey. The interiors are often empty and inhuman—bare floors, cement walls, rows of fluorescent lights.

“The visual style is there to empower the story, and the story is all about the mood,” Alvarez explains. “Every shot, every angle, you’re trying to get the audience to feel unsettled, to not ever let them feel cozy and warm. And the coldness of the environment, the control—that is another aspect of it, because you wonder, what is hidden inside? What happens when you crack that egg open? That is when the deep secrets come spilling out. It is this very cold world. But inside, something is on fire. And that is Lisbeth, completely.”

It’s no secret this is a hugely important project for Alvarez. He loved movies from the start (“E.T. was the first movie I saw, but my mother says the first movie I heard was Jaws, because she went to see it when she was pregnant with me!”). He then began making them as a kid, starting with a friend’s video camera and crude stop-motion animation. Eventually he moved on to doing commercials, and music-videos.

Finally, nearly ten years ago, Alvarez went out and shot “Panic Attack,” five frantic minutes of pretty Montevideo crumbling under an alien invasion. When he uploaded it to YouTube, he had no idea what would happen.

“What did that even mean, ‘YouTube movie’?” he asks. “The channel didn’t really have original content then, it was all cats, and kids doing stupid things. But this little film, with no promotion, people liked it, passed it around. It was something new and it had millions of views overnight.”

That viral sensation led to that first studio deal, and two successful genre films, Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe. But, Alvarez acknowledges, although shooting The Girl in the Spider’s Web really didn’t feel any different, the stakes are higher. As are the fans’ expectations.

“When I was a child, watching Cronenberg’s The Fly, I remember my father going, ‘The original was way better,’” Alvarez says with a laugh. “Really? I didn’t know there was an original. But, I mean, there were people who didn’t know Evil Dead was a remake, either. They just liked it. Just like I’d known I loved the movie I was watching.”

“So, of course,” he adds, “I know people will compare Spider’s Web to the films that came before. But this is not a remake. It’s not even really a sequel; it’s a reinterpretation. People will say: Why would you do it? Why is it necessary? Because that’s how you keep it alive. Lisbeth, she’s more relevant today than ever, and the world needs to see her again and hear her out.”

And Alvarez can’t wait to give them that chance.

“I know how demanding audiences are. Every time they go into a theatre, they hope a movie touches them. I know I sit down, the logo comes on, and it doesn’t matter what I’ve heard, I just hope, maybe this is going to be the one. This is a movie which will change me. It’s like looking for love, every date you’re saying, maybe this is the one where I’ll fall in love again.  But in the end, with movies, all that really matters is—is it good or is it bad? Either it’s great, or it sucks. And I believe this one is great.”