Madame Web

Feb 15, 2024 | Posted by in Movies
Madame Web

A paramedic develops the power to see the future and has to save three teenage girls from a relentless villain bent on murdering them in S.J. Clarkson’s Madame Web.

The Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Movies -or Spumm for short- is a strange project. It’s a series of films built around characters adjacent to Spider-Man without actually featuring Spider-Man. Venom focused on the fan-favourite Spider-Man villain with the webslinger in no way involved in his origin, Morbius teased connections to Spider-Man in its trailer before none materialised in the final film and the upcoming Kraven the Hunter will likely contain no references to Spider-Man. It may seem odd to create projects based on characters connected to a character without actually featuring them but it’s not necessarily a bad idea as adaptations can and should make changes to service the story being told but major gymnastics are employed to trick audiences into assuming that these films will either feature or reference Spider-Man in some way without delivering on that promise. The execution of these adaptations has also been less than stellar, adding another layer of frustration to audiences.

Madame Web

What a tangled web we weave!

Madame Web is on another level regarding teasing connections to Spider-Man. Ben Parker (Adam Scott) -better known as Uncle Ben- is a featured character, Mary Parker (Emma Roberts) -Peter Parker’s mother- appears briefly and even Peter Parker himself is present in the film to a minimal degree but there is a strange aversion to making some direct references while routinely deploying others. Apparently, Ben Parker being one of the main characters is acceptable but saying the name Peter isn’t. This is among many very strange choices found in this film.

Of course, Madame Web shouldn’t be entirely judged on how it chooses to reference Spider-Man. It should be judged on its own merits as a superhero origin story. The film follows Cassandra -Cassie- Webb (Dakota Johnson), a paramedic for the New York Fire Department who unlocks latent psychic powers after an accident and finds herself between a relentless villain named Ezekiel (Tahar Rahim) and three teenage girls he wants to murder. Cassie in theory bonds with the three teenagers while mastering her powers and overcomes her inability to truly connect with others. This is something the film tells the audience has happened rather than showing it.

The storytelling is terrible. Plot progression is dependent on characters making insane decisions that the audience is expected to accept. Nothing flows logically from anything that came before and setups that seem designed to allow for the development of relationships always cut away to something far less interesting. It’s obvious that significant portions were reshot and it’s painfully clear when the reshoots are awkwardly squeezed into an already messy narrative. The end result is an empty shell of a story that has no depth or weight and contains no actual characters to invest in. There is the unconvincing illusion of characters but none of them fit the definition.

Madame Web

Time to make a series of insane decisions

Cassie fails to be an engaging lead due to this lack of character. Any established baseline traits are quickly contradicted and there’s no justification behind any decision she makes. The film thinks it’s about an isolated woman gaining a found family but any bonding between Cassie and those she eventually becomes close to happens off-screen. She is also far from isolated as has a close friendship with Ben as well as others she works with so there’s no sense that something is missing in her life that she feels the need to fix nor is there any organic development of her connection to the three teenagers. She simply eventually regards them as family instead of a job she has to complete and there’s no evidence of anything happening to alter her outlook. Similarly, being angry at her mother who died when giving birth to her in ludicrous circumstances appears out of nowhere as an internal conflict that needs resolving in an attempt to force a poignant emotional moment. It falls flat because the film never established that unresolved animosity.

Dakota Johnson’s performance is never believable but she’s held back by a script that contains nothing to latch onto. None of her -or anyone else’s- dialogue is believable as speech that would be delivered by human beings, Cassie changes from scene to scene and there is no depth to her. Dakota Johnson has proven herself in other projects so it’s reasonable to conclude that the problem lies with the material rather than her capabilities as a performer. The same applies to the rest of cast; Adam Scott, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor, Emma Roberts and the rest are all proven talents kneecapped by atrocious writing and direction. Any viewer could be forgiven for assuming everyone involved in Madame Web is incompetent because nobody comes out of this looking good.

The villain, Ezekiel merits special mention as being the worst example of a villain in a comic book movie in recent memory. Comic book movies frequently underwhelm on the villain front but Ezekiel makes The Marvels Dar-Benn look like Spider-Man 2‘s Doc Ock. His motivation is built on nightly visions of the three teenagers killing him in the future and there is nothing else attached to the character. He doesn’t talk about anything else and has no life outside of his desire to prevent his demise. His visions and powers aren’t adequately explained -though assumptions can be made based on context- and nothing is made of the connection he had with Cassie’s mother despite the film spending a significant amount of time detailing this. It could have been utilised to create a more tangible antagonistic relationship as there was some grounding in the narrative but it comes to nothing.

Madame Web isn’t entirely irredeemable. Cassie’s Final Destination powers make for some mildly enjoyable moments early on as she worries about losing her sanity and the climactic fight scene in a Pepsi factory occasionally makes good use of her precognition powers. The latter is hampered by awful editing. Constant cutting makes it difficult to follow the flow of the sequence much of the time which almost entirely erodes the tension. The same applies to other set pieces that suffer similar problems. Even relatively mundane things like Cassie driving an ambulance through heavy traffic to reach an accident are kneecapped by incomprehensible editing. This film contains so many baffling decisions that its existence should be studied.

Madame Web

Look out! Here comes the Spider-Person!


Verdict

An unmitigated disaster with no convincing performances, terrible storytelling, negligible characterisation, baffling dialogue that in no way resembles human speech, headache-inducing action and laughable attempts at fan service. The collection of terrible decisions that resulted in this film should be studied.

Overall
  • Madame Web
1

Summary

Kneel Before…

  • Cassie’s powers making for some mildly enjoyable moments

 

Rise Against…

  • awful storytelling
  • atrocious direction
  • negligible characterisation
  • baffling dialogue
  • laughable attempts at fan-service

 

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