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Madame Web Review: Some Good Ideas Are Kneecapped By Poor Execution

Madame Web isn't the worst film to come out of the Sony-Marvel experiment; that title still lovingly goes to Morbius, but for every good idea it has, the film executes it poorly.

Article Summary

  • Madame Web's intriguing concepts are hindered by its subpar delivery and execution.
  • Dakota Johnson's performance grapples with a lackluster script limiting character depth.
  • Teenage characters offer chemistry, but the film fails to fully develop their individuality.
  • The film's nostalgic attempt is outdated, missing the mark on showcasing clairvoyance.

Madame Web has some good ideas, but poor execution mimicking the worst aspects of early 2000s comic book movies drags down the entire production into something as thin and flimsy as a spider web.

Director: S.J. Clarkson
Summary: Cassandra Webb develops the power to see the future. Forced to confront revelations about her past, she forges a relationship with three young women bound for powerful destinies, if they can all survive a deadly present.

Madame Web Posters Revealed With February Release Looming
© 2023 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Madame Web was a concept that seemed strange for a big-screen adaptation. This character is not a good fit for action scenes and the sort of VFX stuff we see in films. Those familiar with comics were even more confused when the casting was announced, and those unfamiliar were confused about why they should care and why this had a Marvel logo attached to it at all. At its core, the ideas that Madame Web plays around with aren't bad. A villain who is trying to prevent his own murder by heroes who aren't heroes yet, a central character whose powers are completely cerebral, and three teenagers just being teenagers with hints about what their futures could be. However, there are so many ways that this film fumbles its own premise.

The main one is our central character, Cassandra. Dakota Johnson does what she can with a script that gives her absolutely nothing to work with. We don't learn much about Cassandra's life or her motivations. For example, we don't know why she decided to be a paramedic or how her experiences in the foster care system shaped her. Before we know it, she is starting to develop her powers, leading to awkward encounters where Cassandra is experiencing things twice, and we see people react to her being strange about it. We learn more about her when the film decides to completely forget the "show, don't tell" rule. It's never really explained why she forms this bond with these three girls, aside from the fact that she doesn't want to see three kids murdered. All of her moments with the girls are stilted and awkward in a way that isn't written into the story. Johnson seems uncomfortable with everything happening around her, and the most believable moments of the film for Cassandra aren't until she fully accepts her powers and starts speaking in that slightly amused and smug voice of someone who knows something you don't know.

Madame Web:
Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced), Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson), Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney), and Mattie Franklin (Celeste O'Connor) in Columbia Pictures' MADAME WEB. Photo By: Jessica Kourkounis © 2024 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Our three teenagers are teenagers. Madame Web does its best to give each of them personality and backstory, but there isn't enough time to know each of them individually. As a trio, they work well together and have decent chemistry. They are believable as teenagers who barely tolerate each other to care about one another. Adam Scott is fine playing Ben Parker, but every time he shows up on screen, the movie seems to get really proud of the fact that we have a young Ben Parker on screen. This is even worse for Emma Roberts as Mary Parker and the way the movie thinks it is being super cute about who her baby is. It's fun the first time the film makes that reference, but by the fifth, it gets very old, very fast.

However, out of everything, poor Tahar Rahim might be saddled with the worst role out of everyone. His dialogue is somehow even more stilted than everyone else. Ezekiel and his motivations could have been really interesting if the film had explored them better. He sees the girls murdering him every night, and, like anyone else, he doesn't want to die, so he figured the only way to live is to kill them first. A better film could have explored this idea with a level of nuance, maybe showing Ezekiel having some doubts about slaughtering three teenage girls in cold blood for something they haven't done yet, but apparently, being evil is super awesome. There is not an ounce of hesitation from him, which takes away any sense of sympathy or understanding we might have for him. There also must be some deleted scenes because he talks about having motivations that aren't related to saving his own life, but Madame Web doesn't take the time to explore them. So Ezekiel is running around in a suit trying to murder three teenagers because he saw Minority Report the year before and decided that was the best way to solve his problems.

Madame Web Snags A Chinese Release Date
Ezekiel (Tahar Rahim) in Columbia Pictures' MADAME WEB. Courtesy of Sony Pictures
© 2024 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The core of the matter is that this film takes great care to remind us that it is set in 2003 and feels like a superhero movie from that time. In the late '90s and into the early 2000s, comic book movies were becoming a thing, but studios and some of the people making the films still seemed like like they were a little ashamed of the fact that they were making films based on comic books [see the "yellow spandex" joke in X-Men]. Everything about this film felt so constrained and like it was fighting against its own premise. They never really take advantage of Cassandra's powers to do something fun with time like Tenet. It's all framed as Cassandra being in the right place at the right time, which is such a boring way to show clairvoyance on screen. It's a tough power to present on screen, but there had to be a better way than Cassandra telling everyone when to duck.

Madame Web isn't the worst film to come out of the Sony-Marvel experiment; that title still lovingly goes to Morbius, but for every good idea it has, the film executes it poorly. There was potential here, and maybe this could have come together in different hands. The movie in theaters, however, is just another miss for Sony in the live-action Marvel films. This is strike one; they have two more before the end of this year, but you have to wonder what happens if they hit strike three. All three of the Sony-Marvel films this year are at some level of failure. Unlike Cassandra, we can't see the future, but in the present, Madame Web falls apart and will ultimately be forgotten before the summer hits.

Madame Web

Madame Web
Review by Kaitlyn Booth

Madame Web has some good ideas, but poor execution mimicking the worst aspects of early 2000s comic book movies drags down the entire production into something as thin and flimsy as a spider web.

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Kaitlyn BoothAbout Kaitlyn Booth

Kaitlyn is the Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Film critic and pop culture writer since 2013. Ace. Leftist. Nerd. Feminist. Writer. Replicant Translator. Cinephillic Virtue Signaler. She/Her. UFCA/GALECA Member. 🍅 Approved. Follow her Threads, Instagram, and Twitter @katiesmovies.
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