MADAME WEB SUMMARY:
Cassandra Webb is an awkward loner in every respect of the term. She grew up as an orphan in the foster system after the death of her mother during childbirth. Now, as an adult, she lives alone and rarely socializes. Her only real relationships are with a stray cat and her paramedic work partner, Ben Parker.
One day, while working in a traffic accident, Cassie finds herself trapped in a car and drowns. But before she is revived by Ben, she has a near-death experience that changes her life. Having seen strange visions while clinically dead, Cassie now keeps experiencing glimpses of the future that she attributes to déjà vu or eyesight problems.
Everything changes when she has a terrifying vision of the future. She sees a man with the powers of a spider kill three seemingly random teenagers on a train. They are Julia Cornwall, Anya Corazon, and Mattie Franklin. Cassie intervenes to save the girls, but she quickly finds herself in the sights of Ezekiel Sims, the mysterious spider man.
As they go on the run, Cassie realizes that they are all connected. But what can three ordinary girls and a clairvoyant woman do against a murderer with the proportional strength of a spider?
When Sony Pictures bought the rights to Spider-Man, they bought the rights to all the characters associated with Spider-Man as well. That’s why we get such masterpieces as Morbius, Venom, and Kraven the Hunter.
So, as Sony attempts to wring every dollar out of fans and the franchise, they start delving into Spider-Man’s C and D-grade characters for material. The end result is Madame Web. And while the reasons for making this movie are dubious, there are some positive aspects to it.
Unsurprisingly, the best parts of Madame Web are its connections to Spider-Man. This film is set in 2003 and is, therefore, in the early days of the Spider-Man saga. We meet Adam Scott as Ben Parker, Peter’s beloved uncle. We also meet Emma Roberts as Mary Parker, Peter’s doomed mother.
Those connections alone make Madame Web interesting to Spider-Man fans. But then we meet Tahar Rahim as Ezekiel Sims, a character introduced in J. Michael Straczynski’s memorable run on the comics. Ezekiel runs around in a very familiar-looking costume and has ties to a group of spider-centered natives in Peru. Broadening the Spider-Verse ends up being the primary appeal of Madame Web. However, that is not the primary focus of the film.
Madame Web is centered on the dysfunctional relationship between Dakota Johnson‘s Cassandra Webb and the three teenage girls she rescues. They include Sydney Sweeney as Julia Cornwall, who eventually becomes Spider-Woman; Isabela Merced as Anya Corazon, who eventually becomes Araña; and Celeste O’Connor as Mattie Franklin, who becomes another variation of Spider-Woman.
The band of loners ends up forming a makeshift family and a weird spider-themed variation of Charlie’s Angels, but not in this film. It will apparently happen in the future if Madame Web makes enough money, but that doesn’t seem to be a sure thing.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK:
Sweeney, Merced, and O’Connor all have comic-accurate costumes, and we get to see them in action briefly, but that’s the problem. It’s only ‘briefly’. The ladies are only seen in costume and action for less than a minute… maybe even less than 30 seconds. It’s a case of what’s yet to come being more interesting than what’s currently on the screen.
To make matters worse, as the girls are getting to know each other, there’s almost constant bickering between them. It quickly gets tedious, and you look forward to when it moves on to mindless action.
Unfortunately, Dakota Johnson fares no better in the role of Cassandra Webb. Her performance is rather flat. Her character is also unlikable as she bickers with the teens, is rude to literally everybody, and is amazingly unlikable.
She’s trying to drive home the fact that Cassie is an anti-social loner with no people skills, but it doesn’t make the audience want to be around her either. The combination of the weak script and dull performance ends up making you look at your watch, wondering when Madame Web will end.
There are plenty of good time loop-themed movies out there. Films like Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow show that the concept of characters rewinding time can be fun, innovative, and clever.
Madame Web isn’t really any of those things. Cassie never really uses her ability in some amazing way to outwit Ezekiel. It’s essentially just a repeated scene do-over and nothing more. This script really needed another pass to improve those time loop moments. It was a lost opportunity.
I don’t usually notice camerawork in a movie unless it’s really good or really bad. Unfortunately, Madame Web‘s camerawork is the latter. In every action scene, the camera shakes a lot while in close-up. The end result is it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Maybe it’s a side effect of director S.J. Clarkson’s TV background and working on a typically smaller screen, but it doesn’t work well here.
Finally, there was no end credits scene at the screening I attended. There could be one on opening night, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if you sit through all of the credits with a full bladder for nothing.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Madame Web is really only for Spider-Man fans. And even then, there’s not a lot of incentive to see it on the big screen as there are no major surprises or big visuals requiring an early viewing. Only fans of the comic books and Spidey movies will be forgiving enough of its shortcomings.
MADAME WEB REVIEW SCORE: 5.5 OUT OF 10
Opening in theaters on Wednesday, February 14, Madame Web is rated PG-13 for violence/action and language.
Scott Chitwood has been writing about film online since 1995. He is a co-founder of TheForce.Net, IGN Movies, and the Houston Film Critics Society. Scott wrote for ComingSoon until joining Vital Thrills in 2020. Scott is also the publisher of Red 5 Comics and lives in Houston, TX.