Madame Web Review: Rudderless Origin Story Is Dead-On-Arrival Fare

Madame Web Review: Rudderless Origin Story Is Dead-On-Arrival Fare

A still from the film. (courtesy: YouTube)

New Delhi:

An insufferably clunky, over-expository and rudderless origin story of a fringe character from the Marvel multiverse, Madame Web spins a yarn so insubstantial that it snaps in no time and is all over the place. Not a pretty sight, to say the least.  

Barely 10 to 20 minutes in, it is easy to see the bleak future of the two-hour movie – and the franchise that might be on the anvil over at Sony. It goes nowhere. The dialogue is ham-fisted, the action amateurish, the visual effects rudimentary and the final outcome disastrous.

Marvel fatigue is one thing, sheer ineptitude is quite another. The two mingle in Madame Web, directed and co-written (with three other writers) by S.J. Clarkson. Their toil yields an utterly unwarranted movie that should have been better off nixed at the drafting stage.    

As for the acting, the less said the better. And that certainly isn’t for want of effort. The actors strive very hard indeed. The strain shows. With an overload of inanities to deal with and tide over, the cast – besides Dakota Johnson, it includes Sydney Sweeney and Tahar Rahim – is hard-pressed to pull the proceedings out of the fire.

There is little humour going around. Most of the film’s attempts at being funny fall flat and the bursts of energy that peppers Madame Web are too overly affected to be effective. Dakota Johnson, she of the three 50 Shades films, is saddled with a role that approximates the character’s arc in the film – until the very end, she struggles to figure out who and/or what she can be if she were to put her mind to it.

In her original comic-book avatar, Madame Web is an aged, sightless wheelchair user endowed with powers that help her see the future in time to be able to stop or alter unwanted events. In the movie, Cassandra “Cassie” Webb (Johnson) is a New York Fire Department ambulance driver who is constantly racing against time.

An accident triggers a startling change in her. She experiences disturbing visions of the immediate future that alarm and forewarn her. Unlike the Cassandra of Greek mythology, three girls she decides to help against a malefic force believe her helpful prognoses.

First up, Cassie saves (very casually, if not unintentionally) a pigeon from a death foretold and then moves on to bigger creatures and lives as it dawns upon her, with a bit of help from a figure hidden in her past, that she is no ordinary 30-year-old woman.

The villain, played by Rahim (the French actor has never been so shoddily treated by a movie script), can crawl on ceilings, swoop upon his prey at will and emit a fatal neurotoxin from his hand, but neither he nor the film has a way of wriggling out of the web of mediocrity that they are caught in. Madame Web is dead-on-arrival fare.

Disney’s Marvel movies, when things tend to go right, often deliver levels of entertainment that can keep audiences invested in the make-believe world that they conjure up with all their might. In Madame Web, nothing works. Nothing at all. An overwhelming dullness creeps into everything that Sony’s Columbia Pictures-produced film rustles up.

Most of the action In Madame Web takes place in New York in 2003. The period movie feel that Director S.J. Clarkson and her production designers seek to impart to it – to help the audience get a sense of the time and place, Pepsi cans of a certain vintage, a giant Calvin Klein hoarding through which the heroine drives an ambulance and a poster announcing Beyonce’s debut album are thrown in – seeps into the overall look and texture of the film and not always in a good way.

Madame Web is stylistically obsolete and technically sloppy – it is at most times reminiscent of the time when Hollywood superhero movies were only beginning to find their way forward and paving the ground for a spate the MCU fare that now crowds everything out.

Madame Web opens in the Peruvian Amazon where Cassie’s pregnant mother, Constance (Kerry Bishe), is on an expedition to look for a rare spider with healing abilities. She is betrayed by an evil associate, Ezekiel Sims (Rahim), who wants the spider for himself.

Constance dies but not before being bitten by ab arachnid and giving birth to Cassandra “Cassie” Webb, who acquires psychic powers thanks to the beneficial venom that passed on to her.

The rest of the film has neither bite nor bang as the baddie, who, too, foresees his death in a vision and sets out to eliminate the three teenage girls who he knows will cause his demise. The girls are just, girls but each possesses the potential to be a Spider-Woman. Still in their teens, they are well away form acquiring any real powers.

That is where Cassie comes in. She has visions that reveal troubling events of the immediate future. She babysits the three girls – Julia Cornwall (Sweeney), Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor) and Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced) – babes in the woods who need all the handholding that they can get from Cassie – through the tough situations thrown at them by the crawling menace that Ezekiel turns into.

If one were able to say that all this is fun while it lasts, Madame Web might have just about passed muster. Since it isn’t, the movie is exhausting, pointless and totally bereft of the kind of flashy – and superficial – craft that superhero movies usually ride on.

It is all very well to rustle up a female-centric superhero movie but all that Madame Web is likely to do is give all that are involved with the making of this forgettable movie a bad name that will be difficult to live down. It would be regarded as the worst of its kind had it not been competing with Morbius, the Sony Spider-Man Universe monstrosity that preceded it.

Even with a very low bar to aim for, Madame Web barely makes it. Heed the future – it has waste of time written all over – and change it. Give this movie a miss.                                     


Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor, Tahar Rahim


S.J. Clarkson

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