Madame Web – Film Review

Contrary to what the opinions circling the trenches of the internet might suggest, Madame Web is not a bad film. It is flawed, yes, but certainly not bad.

After the continued success of the animated Spider-Man films, Sony has launched its latest film in their Sony Spider-Man Universe (SSU) with Madame Web starring Dakota Johnson in the title role with support from Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, Isabela Merced, Tahar Rahim, and Adam Scott. Madame Web is directed by S. J. Clarkson in her feature film debut, with a screenplay co-written by Clarkson, Claire Parker, Matt Sazama, and Burk Sharpless.

Cassandra “Cassie” Webb is an awkward, quippy paramedic from Manhattan who, after an accident on the job, unlocks latent clairvoyant and precognitive abilities. Her innate abilities also allow her to see visions of three young women, Julia Cornwall, Mattie Franklin and Anya Corazon, and their shared fate: death at the hands of the same man. In an effort to save their lives, Cassie inserts herself into a dangerous cat and mouse game with Ezekiel Sims, a researcher and businessman with his own spider powers who is hellbent on finding the girls and killing them in order to avoid his own terrible fate.

Despite some 20+ years of superhero movies, there really haven’t been any that didn’t focus on popular male heroes. In the time since the MCU and DCEU took their first steps towards dominating box offices, the number of movies that centred a female hero can be counted on one hand. On top of that, Madame Web as a character has not had the benefit of foundational work experienced by characters like Wonder Woman, who was featured heavily in Justice League content and live-action TV series long before Gal Gadot donned the star-spangled skirt.

Bearing that in mind, Madame Web enters the playing field at a real handicap but with a hell of a lot of ambition. The plot of Madame Web not only aims to explain the backstory and abilities of this incredible background character, but it introduces three future spider-women no doubt with the aim of opening future movie avenues. The relationships between Julia, Mattie, Anya and Cassie are central to the film, as the four of them learn to rely on and support each other through their ordeal with Ezekiel.

Each girl brings something unique to the table, Julia’s innocence keeps them compassionate, Mattie’s outspokenness brightens the mood, and Anya’s pragmatism keeps them grounded. With Cassie as the glue, the girls develop a sisterly bond that’s incredibly heartwarming and Cassie learns that opening up to others enriches her life more than she previously believed. There’s also some excellent foreshadowing with the world’s most well-known uncle, Ben Parker (Adam Scott), and his connection to another future spider-hero, Peter Parker. All in all, Madame Web offers audiences some tantalising nuggets of familiarity to grab onto while also looking forward to the possibility of a new slate of spiders.

Where the film actually falls short is in its technical executions. There were several moments throughout the films where dialogue did not sync up with the actors’ mouths, and the editing team used the same clip of the Peruvian spider people at least 2-3 times, giving Madame Web the feeling that it was made in the early 2000s rather than today. For a studio as large as Sony that has been making superhero films for well over a decade, this feels like a real faux pas. The dialogue also felt very corny at times, and while someone like Dakota Johnson can play those lines in a way that’s endearing, not everyone in the cast could and sadly it showed. Tahar Rahim in particular fell victim to this; to the actor’s credit, however, he was trying to do a lot with very little, as Ezekiel Sims was not nearly as fleshed out as he should’ve been, despite being the driving force of the film.

The real winners of the technical production teams were cinematography, production design, and costuming. Where the dialogue in Madame Web faltered there was always a moment where a spider web appeared on set to pull me back in – using lots of cracked glass, chains, and netting. The film constantly gives the feeling that everything is interconnected even if the connection isn’t immediately visible. Cassie’s red accented outfits were also a nice nod to her comic book costume, while Julia, Mattie, and Anya also all wore colours that are reflected in their own spider-women costumes. It’s little things like this that will tickle the hearts of true fans.

As I stated earlier, Madame Web is not a bad film. It will unfortunately be dragged over the coals of the internet by virtue of the fact that it stars and is directed by a woman, of that I’m absolutely sure, and its technical flaws will be blown up to justify that vitriol. At the end of the day, Madame Web is an entertaining gambit from Sony studios and a far better movie than their last live-action SSU release, 2022’s Morbius.

So, female comic fans: go see Madame Web. It might not be perfect but it’s nice to have something made specifically for us for a change.

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