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Madame Web Review: Dakota Johnson Marvel Debut Falls Short

Superhero Movie Enthusiasm and Madame Web Unique Attempt

It’s possible that the current enthusiasm for superhero movies may not end soon, and certainly, Sony’s latest Spider-Tenacity film, Madame Web, which is unlikely to be the kind that saves the superhero “genre,” although you have to give it some credit for attempting something that’s half-bold and different.

Madame Web’s Position in the Spider-Verse Unveiled

Even lifelong fans of Spider-Man might not be familiar with the character of Madame Web’s position in Spider-Verse, though thankfully, the multiverse doesn’t play a role in this film, and there’s no connection to anything related to it. Spider-Man is relegated to the finest category of Easter eggs.

Casey Webb’s Journey: From Peru to NYC

In this case, Dakota Johnson portrays NYC paramedic Cassandra “Casey” Webb, but before meeting her, we’re taken back to 1973 in Peru with an introduction where her scientist mother is searching for a rare spider whose venom could provide a cure. It’s here she encounters Ezekiel for the first time, who desires the spider for his nefarious purposes, and three decades later, he begins to harass Casey and three young women – Julia, Sydney Sweeney, Isabella Merced starring as Anya, and Celeste O’Connor as Mattie – whom Ezekiel believes he will kill. By then, Casey has acquired precognitive abilities, allowing her to foresee Ezekiel’s plans ahead of time.

SJ Clarkson’s Theatrical Debut: Character-Driven Storytelling

TV director SJ Clarkson (Jessica Jones, The Defenders) steps into the theatrical realm with a character-driven story that may be new for many, and much depends on whether one is a fan of Johnson or any other actor. Non-fans may find their typically flat delivery not very helpful in a screenplay that struggles with consistent pacing issues. Other actors, especially Sweeney, have also done better work.

Dakota Johnson, Madame Web Review

Fully accepting Madame Web as any sort of groundbreaking female-centric superhero film is difficult, as we’ve had some, better or worse, before. Additionally, the film’s marketing suggests it’s about bringing together a group of young female superheroes, like Birds of Prey, but it’s a bit misleading as we mainly see only three young women through Ezekiel’s perspective as their heroic transformations are seen as vanity.

Certainly, there’s action, but otherwise, Madame Web is inevitably a “final destination” film where Casey sees something that’s going to happen, then does whatever she can to stop it. It’s not entirely original, but it’s a narrative driven by clich├ęd dialogues at such a pace that it never becomes too exciting. Still, there’s good humor in the film, most of it expressed by O’Connor’s Mattie, but also, Adam Scott as Casey’s assistant-medical sidekick, Ben, and it often feels like a standard feel-good story against evil that never really leads to any consequences.

Regarding Clarkson’s artistic team, production designer Ethan Tobman has done a good job recreating New York City of 2003, and the film greatly benefits from Clarkson’s collaboration with Oscar-winning DP D.P. Mauro Fiore. Even with these two collaborators, the film never feels as grand or unique as its own thing.

The roles of Sweeney’s counterparts Celeste O’Connor and Isabella Merced have been played, both of whom are vibrant performers but have been given very weak characters to portray. In the end, Madame Web is a sequel bait film, destined to elevate both her and Sweeney to superhero greatness, which may never come. Everyone involved seems trapped in the bonds of uncertainty; the only solid belief anyone is allowed to hold is that they definitely prefer a crispy Pepsi-Cola on a hot day in New York City.

As stated, I enjoyed parts of Madame Web, when the film mostly leaned towards being an offbeat thriller, satisfying in Clarkson’s interesting visuals and Johnson’s performance that balances surprise with eagerness. There’s something hidden in the film, a story of fate and liking both tied to stealing in the night and trying to keep each other alive. Johnson’s humor, dry like London’s gin, gives Madame Web more personality compared to most MCU films.

Unfortunately, the narrative should finally progress towards an action climax, and Johnson gets lost in verbose language. And Clarkson never quite utilizes Kasie’s supernatural gifts effectively. A glimpse of Kasie’s future, theoretically, could make her a specialist combatant who can foresee the opponent’s strike moments before it actually lands. Instead, she ends up causing some car accidents and igniting a fire in a fireworks warehouse but manages to narrowly escape the disaster. I believe that in the next installment, Ms. Webb needs to gain full control over her abilities, which will likely only remain within the diversity of our minds.

The biggest issue with the film could be that critics are becoming increasingly harsh on any ordinary Marvel or superhero film, and one wonders if any film can survive at the box office these days because critics are at war. Ms. Web should benefit from being more women-centric, but there is plenty of other competition for female moviegoers, and who knows if people will bother to see it? It’s certainly a puzzle that must have stunned decision-makers on the production budget.

Madame Web vs. Morbius and Venom: Offering Something Unique

It may be fair to say that Ms. Webb is better than Morbius and the two Venom films, is akin to faint praise, but it does offer something different from other Marvel and Spider-Man films, and the final act is quite spectacular as things finally come together after a lot of setup time.

Some might question whether Sony needed to make a Madame Web film, but in an industry where sometimes significant changes are necessary to keep moviegoers from disappointment, Madame Web makes a concerted effort not to become another Catwoman.

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