Action Adventure

Review: ‘Madame Web’ is Yet Another Lackluster ‘Spider-Man’ Spinoff that Becomes Entangled in a Web of Its Own Absurdity

February 13, 2024Ben MK

With films like the Venom franchise and Morbius, Sony's shared cinematic universe centering on some of Spider-Man's most infamous associates has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. And while the effort hasn't been nearly as well received as movies like Spider-Man: No Way Home and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, it's still gained enough traction to keep the momentum going. Now, with Madame Web, director SJ Clarkson is setting out to bring yet another secondary character from the pages of the wall-crawler's extensive comic book history to the big screen. But does this latest Spider-Man-adjacent adventure have what it takes to bind moviegoers in its web of action and intrigue?

The story begins in the Peruvian Amazon in 1973, where a pregnant Constance Webb (Kerry Bishé) has been searching for an elusive, venomous spider that has the potential to cure her unborn daughter of a rare genetic disease. Unbeknownst to her, however, the man she's enlisted as her guide, Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), has other plans in mind once they locate one of the arachnid specimens. Intent on using the spider's venom to grant himself superhuman abilities that have, up until now, only existed in myth, Ezekiel's thirst for power leads him to betray Constance, leaving her for dead in the middle of the rainforest. What he doesn't anticipate, though, is for the mythical spider-people of the Amazon to descend from the treetops and come to her rescue. And though they're unable to save her life, they still manage to save the life of her baby — a feat that will come back to haunt Ezekiel, despite his best efforts to launch a preemptive strike on anyone he deems a threat.

Fast forward 30 years, and Constance's daughter, Cassie (Dakota Johnson), is now a Manhattan paramedic whose foster upbringing has left her emotionally distant and extremely cynical. When she and her partner, Ben Parker (Adam Scott), are tasked with responding to a traffic accident, however, it leads to a near-death experience that will leave Cassie with the inexplicable ability to see glimpses of the future. Still struggling with her new gift, Cassie soon finds herself using it to save the lives of three teenagers — Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney), Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced) and Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor) — who appear to be on the hit list of a mysterious man with superhuman agility and the power to defy gravity. But what do these three girls have in common that could have earned them such a lethal adversary? And what does all of it have to do with Cassie?

What follows is yet another origin story that aims to serve up a heaping dose of comic book fan service while presumably also setting the stage for an upcoming crossover with Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. Unlike Venom and Morbius, however, audiences will be hard-pressed to spot any mention whatsoever of everyone's friendly neighborhood superhero. Instead, Madame Web seems to go out of its way not to mention Spider-Man in any way, shape or form, while simultaneously teasing viewers with appearances from the likes of the aforementioned Uncle Ben and his sister-in-law, Mary Parker (Emma Roberts), and even name dropping J. Jonah Jameson himself. Yet, despite all these Easter Eggs, the absence of the well known web-slinger ends up doing the film a disservice, making it feel like a B-grade Spider-Man knockoff rather than a legitimate Spider-Man spinoff.

It all adds up to a frustrating experience that, while moderately entertaining at times, can't overcome its ridiculous plot and cheesy, borderline cringeworthy dialogue. As Uncle Ben famously said to his nephew, Peter, "With great power comes great responsibility." And although Cassie herself is even told a variation of this mantra in Madame Web, it's all too obvious that the makers of this movie never really took it to heart.

Madame Web releases February 14th, 2024 from Sony Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for violence/action and language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 57 min.

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