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Madame Web ★



Released: 14 February 2024

Director: S.J Clarkson

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, Isabela Merced, Tahar Rahim, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts, Adam Scott

Reviewed By: Martin Richmond

It has been hard to escape talk in recent years of superhero fatigue. A genre that for the longest time was almost guaranteed to draw in the crowds in their droves has now come unstuck, where even the once seemingly infallible Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken some hits. A genre in need of some CPR, a film featuring a protagonist whose profession is a paramedic, the perfect combination to revitalise the genre, right? No, if anything, the latest film from Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (SSU) ‘Madame Web’ will likely have the exact opposite effect.

Set in 2003, Cassie Web (Johnson) is a paramedic living in New York City. One day, while working to save someone’s life, she suffers a near-death experience that leads her to discover she has powers of clairvoyance. Upon looking into the future, Cassie crosses paths with three young women Julia Cornwall (Sweeney), Anya Corazon (Merced), and Mattie Franklin (O’Connor), and must protect them from the villainous Ezekiel Sims (Rahim), who like Cassie is a clairvoyant and possesses spider-like powers and believes that these young women will be responsible for his demise.

You would think when following in the footsteps of previous SSU (or as it used to be known by the awful acronym SPUMC Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters) films, that it would be an easy enough task to make a film which was not so horrific it inspired a whole load of memes poking fun at it. The script, written by Claire Parker, director S.J. Clarkson and Morbius writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, is filled with utterly atrocious dialogue devoid of any wit, charm or humour. There is not a scintilla of effort into making these characters someone to root for, or offering any development to give the audience a reason to care about their plight. Cassie’s origin story (if you can call it that), is eerily similar to that of Morbius. Expecting a better script is like playing with the most venomous spider twice and not anticipating being on the receiving end of a venomous bite that leaves you writhing in agony, a feeling you may experience after sitting through 114 joyless minutes.

Begging the question of why this movie even exists without the presence of everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, who we know exists in this world given the presence of his uncle Ben (a severely underutilised Adam Scott), and his pregnant sister-in-law Mary (Roberts). Even if you had never heard of Spider-Man or only had the faintest of knowledge about the character, you would not need a Spidey sense to know who that baby will grow up to be. However, it seems a curse was placed on this film by a certain sorcerer supreme since no one can bring themselves to mention the baby’s name, presumably because of contractual reasons.

Dakota Johnson may well never get the spectre of the 50 Shades of Grey franchise off her back, but she is an actor who has proven her worth when given adequate material to work with. She tries her level best, but when the dialogue is this stilted and just downright awful, there’s nothing she can do to elevate it and Cassie comes across as painfully awkward to be around.  The trio of women finding themselves under Cassie’s protection, much to their annoyance, are given very little to do besides run away when one of the most uncharismatic and completely forgettable villains in a long while swings in and attacks them. In a time when the bar for superhero action scenes has been raised considerably, Clarkson’s direction offers nothing new resulting in substandard and frankly boring sequences. 

The 2000s setting allows the use of some certified noughties bangers like “Toxic” by Britney Spears and “Scandalous” by Mis-Teeq. The use of the latter, incidentally, is rather fitting, because it is so so scandalous how projects like this see the light of day when they serve no other purpose, than for the studio to retain the rights to these characters. All the while, other studios bury finished superhero projects for questionable reasons. For all the valid criticism of the MCU, it cannot be denied that a lot of care went into laying its foundations to become the cinematic behemoth it became in the 2010s. The same cannot be said for the SSU, and after this latest misfire, time is running out for the studio to convince audiences it is worth investing their time in. No pressure then, Kraven the Hunter.

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