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February 14, 2024 / Sony Pictures Canada

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

Directed By: S.J. Clarkson

In this standalone origin story of one of Marvel's most enigmatic heroines, Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson) is a paramedic in Manhattan who may have clairvoyant abilities. Forced to confront revelations about her past, she forges a relationship with three young women (Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, Isabela Merced) destined for powerful futures... if they can all survive a deadly present.

Written By Darren

Rating 2.5 out of 5

Madame Web features a good performances from its female stars which are led by the always solid Dakota Johnson, and despite one of the worst villains to have ever grace the silver screen and some atrocious editing, not even rewrites that bury the potential this story had can completely derail this messy but somewhat enjoyable Marvel flick.

While moviegoers have been growing frustrated of late with the Marvel Cinematic Universe with subpar recent entries like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels, both of which I enjoyed, the Sony Spider-Verse outside of the animated films and the Tom Holland led Spider-Man films have had some of the worst superhero films of all time. Tom Hardy’s Venom films have skated on by relying on Hardy’s charm as everyone’s favourite symbiote, but Morbius was truly one of the worst films I have ever seen. Their latest entry is the Dakota Johnson led Madame Web, providing an origin story and new take on the supporting character from the Spider-Man comic books. It’s apparent from watching the film that there were heavy rewrites and script changes, clearly changing the initial vision that would have gotten Johnson to sign onto such a film (which she has confirmed in interviews), but there is something nostalgic about the early 2000s-esque film that plays out, that even though it is very directionless at times, it never becomes an excruciating experience that I wanted to get up and walk out of the theatre during.

One of the biggest offences of Madame Web is its screenplay. It does not come as a surprise given the writers behind the film also penned the atrociously abysmal Morbius, but the film never nears that low for the superhero genre. What the screenplay suffers from is unrealized potential. While they want you to believe this is a superhero film given the connection to Spider-Man and the shots of Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor and Isabela Merced in their superhero costumes in the trailers, this is more of a thriller. It’s got inklings of Final Destination and The Terminator, and with the 2003 time setting for the story, the fact that the film feels like it was made in the early 2000s feels slightly nostalgic. But it feels like a spiritual sequel to Daredevil and Elektra in terms of directionless and lacklustre storytelling, which is not anything a film should aspire to because those are both two of the worst films the superhero genre has ever seen. You can see the strong female character arc for Cassie through the rubble of the previous iterations of the story, which has strong potential, but the film is bogged down by a terrible villain and shameless tie-ins to Peter Parker’s story without ever mentioning his name that serve no purpose to Cassie’s story. The entire film feels like an extended prologue for the film we all wanted to see, much like how 2015’s Fantastic Four felt. The story gets Cassie to the point where she actually becomes Madame Web, and while I would like to see Johnson, Sweeney, O’Connor and Merced reunite for a sequel to reprise their roles as their chemistry was so great, please for the love of god let’s incorporate that into the proper Marvel Cinematic Universe with Holland’s Peter Parker and actually qualified writers… not the hacks who wrote Morbius. And the butchering of the “with great power comes great responsibility” line is absolutely unforgivable and is a laugh out loud moment of the entire film for all the wrong reasons that left me gobsmacked. Not sure if it’s good or bad, but the viral line “he was with my mother in the Amazon while she was researching spiders” doesn’t make the final cut, which was somewhat disappointing after how wildly that line played in the trailers.

The career ending performance award goes to Tahar Rahim as Ezekeil Sims. HOLY CRAP! What wooden acting with terrible line delivery that is attempted to be fixed by horrendous ADR to the point where it doesn’t look like his lips are moving as he is speaking his lines. It’s on a whole other level that makes the villain anything but threatening or remotely scary, instead making him the laughing stock of the entire film. At times I questioned if Rahim was actually on set or if he was merely added by CGI after principal photography had wrapped as he is lifeless throughout the film. Without question, had there been good casting in this role the film would have been much better because Rahim nearly sinks the entire film with his awful performance.

What saves the film is the lead performances of Johnson, Sweeney, O’Connor and Merced. Johnson nearly throws her back out trying to elevate the script she is given to make Cassie into a strong lead character, infusing her with intelligence, determination and a hardened personality after a lonely childhood. It comes as no surprise as Johnson is truly a magnificent actress, and if there is anyone who can salvage this script it is her, but not even her valiant efforts can totally save the film. Sweeney, O’Connor and Merced don’t have the strongest written characters as the three teenage girls being targeted by Ezekeil, but their infectious and truly fun on screen chemistry brings the film to life. It is clear that they had a fun time making this film together with Johnson, as when the four of them share the screen, you can feel the positive energy coming off them. Emma Roberts and Zosia Mamet have virtually nothing to do in this film, both serving the story as plot points rather than characters, which is a shame especially for Roberts as there was potential to do something interesting with her character. Then you have the always dependable Adam Scott who is just a bundle of joy in this film, fully committing to his character and delivering a charming performance. His on screen chemistry with Johnson is brilliant, bringing to life their characters’ friendship and helping to enrich the story. Without this cast, the film would be one of the worst films I have ever seen, but with such talent on screen, it’s impossible to not be entertained by their strong work and forget that there is almost no point to this film.

Visually speaking, there are some truly bad CGI moments in the film, but considering it’s not an action heavy story, they are few and far between. The frantic editing on the other hand is at times unforgivable. Yes, it plays into Cassie’s powers for some scenes, recreating the disorienting experience she is having discovering her powers which I can accept, but too much of the time it is a substitute for subpar filmmaking that cannot sustain a shot for more than a few seconds at time. At the same time, the early 2000s-vibe lends itself to some great needle drops including Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and some forgotten costume designs that feel right out of a time capsule, while Johan Söderqvist’s musical score is surprisingly good and one of the rare creative strengths of the entire film.

Your enjoyment from watching Madame Web is going to depend on two things: how much you like the cast, and how willing you are to just turn off your brain and mindless surrender to the directionless story. With the star power of Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, Isabela Merced and Adam Scott, the film is in capable hands even if the writers have created a two hour prologue rather than the film that audiences were expecting to see. There is no doubt that Tahar Rahim gives a truly horrendous performance that helps to create one of the worst movie villains of all time and that there is a lot of untapped potential in the film’s story due to rewrites and a directionless plot, but the performances of Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, Isabela Merced and Adam Scott are enough to salvage Madame Web that make it an entertaining enough watch if you don’t expect much from it, but an ultimately forgettable entry into the Sony Spider-Verse that really doesn’t need to exist.

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