Madame Web (2024)
Madame Web (2024)

Genre: Superhero Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: February 14th, 2024 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: S.J. Clarkson Actors: Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor, Tahar Rahim, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts, Adam Scott, Kerry Bishe, Zosia Mamet, Jose Maria Yazpik

 


 

“N

o one’s ever captured one alive.” In the Peruvian Amazon in 1973, a dedicated scientist (Kerry Bishe) hopes to locate an elusive spider, which could potentially cure countless diseases. It’s incredibly rare, but dead specimens show a supercharged cellular structure – suggesting that the creature’s venom can grant considerable powers. This will come in handy when that scientist, who is also pregnant, is betrayed and shot by her assistant, Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), who intends to use the arachnid’s capabilities for pure evil. “I’m not interested in helping people!”

Decades later, in 2003 in New York, Cassandra “Cassie” Webb (Dakota Johnson) works as an ambulance driver and paramedic, navigating the hectic city with her partner-in-crime, fellow FDNY medic Ben Parker (Adam Scott). This career doesn’t seem too fulfilling for her, particularly because she doesn’t care at all about the people she rescues, as demonstrated by a young boy who wishes to thank her for saving his parent, to whom she barely wants any interaction (this nonchalance and disregard is where Johnson shines, as she’s extremely believable when acting aloof). This is likely a result of her upbringing with a distant mother (or, rather, one who died during childbirth), who spent all her time researching and studying spiders. When Cassie is accidentally trapped in a car that plummets off a bridge into the water, where she seemingly blacks out for three minutes (or was temporarily dead), she discovers that she has unusual abilities – including seeing into the future in glimpses of just a few seconds or minutes.

“I don’t understand!” Right from the start, the computer-animated sequences are atrocious; they’re not even remotely convincing, which is a monstrous problem for a movie that will heavily depend on augmented imagery. Early dream sequences are similarly disappointing, revealing action scenes to come that are just as riddled with ineffective CG – as well as silly costuming and masks. Yet the visuals aren’t the only issue – and they can’t condemn the film singlehandedly.

Of greater significance is the story (and its execution) – one so generic and unoriginal (for a fantasy picture) that it struggles to muster the slightest degree of interest. The villain is obnoxiously straightforward, behaving vilely simply because he’s supposed to, routinely stalking his prey like a Terminator; and the hero and her eventual, supernatural cohorts – including Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney), Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced), and Martha Franklin (Celeste O’Connor) – who get to zip around like agile spider-people, are frustratingly bland stereotypes (boasting an unusual amount of exposed midriffs). The dialogue is a strange component of this bizarre tale, as all of the characters crack little jokes (or talk to themselves to assist in narration) or speak in philosophical cliches, though they generate the best humor almost unintentionally by how insincerely they approach various scenarios (other moments fall so flat they’re groan-inducing). “You are the only one who can change the future.” Cassie’s discomfort around other humans provides the bulk of that, while extreme coincidences and unreal, split-second, impractical rescues add to the absurdities. Life-or-death confrontations typically have negligible weight when they involve main characters, but appear even more meaningless when those characters don’t act as if in any danger.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to dredge up much sympathy for personas that feel so inauthentic – and behave so recklessly (the world they exist in is a bit of a nonsensical mess anyway). This is a huge predicament for a superhero premise, since the suspension of disbelief is already remarkably high. It gets even worse when Cassie returns to Peru to unearth some answers – answers the audience is painfully aware of thanks to the very obvious nature of spidery superpowers (as if they too are blessed with premonitions). It also doesn’t help that there’s so little adventure going on. A couple of fleeting attacks against helpless teen girls end with minimal excitement; greater tension arrives when a woman’s water breaks in the middle of a kitchen. Even subsequent chases are short and mostly uneventful; explosions conveniently blow up trivial objects, ambushes are a touch too late, and diversions are colorful yet feeble. And the complicated climax is an absolute disaster of failed concepts. It’s so poorly, laughably designed and implemented that it’s as if “Madame Web” were a student film, and not some colossally-budgeted Hollywood epic. “It’s gonna get a little crazy.”

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10