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  • Nate Adams

'Madame Web' review: Superhero genre found dead in a ditch


Courtesy of Sony

 

If last year, with bombs “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “The Flash,” “Shazam 2,” “The Flash” and “The Marvels,” didn’t already prove superhero movies were on life support, then Sony’s latest dip into the pool, “Madame Web,” may have just pulled the plug. Greenlit at a time when famous actors suiting up in spandex was all the rage and when these movies could be counted on to mint at least $100 million domestic at the box office regardless of quality, “Madame Web” seems to be in a league of terrible movies all by itself. In a way, it’s commendable just how lost and out of rhythm this film is, as you can tell about midway through, everyone involved stopped caring. Hell, it’s blatantly obvious the studio executives saw an early cut and tried to “solve” the problem with reshoots. If this was the movie after it got spliced up in the editing room, I’m genuinely curious how bad it was before it got released to the public.

 

Directed by S.J. Clarkson and credited to five (!) screenwriters, “Madame Web” is a movie that will be dissected and studied for future generations. It’s been a hoot watching the actors on the promotional circuit insist this is a standalone movie in a standalone universe, even though it’s very evident Sony is trying to juice up their own cinematic universe. (The movie features Peter Parker as a literal fetus!) And for a movie that’s called “Madame Web” and features Dakota Johnson as the main character, who in the comics is a wheelchair ridden clairvoyant who occasionally helped Spider-Man see into the future, that name is never uttered once, nor does she really do anything heroic. Hilariously, the main plot has our heroine looking after three teenagers who are in imminent danger, and she ditches them for half the movie because she needs to go explore the jungles in the Amazon because someone was researching spiders just before her mom died! (And no, that viral line heard in the trailer sadly didn’t make the final cut). 

 

A clunky, head-scratching opening set in Peru 1973 gets the ball rolling on the absurd backstory around the main character, which may or may not have something to do with spiders and/or spider-people. Cut to 2003, Cassidy Webb is an EMT working alongside Ben Parker (Adam Scott), eventual uncle to Spider-Man, where, after suffering a near death experience, uncovers the ability to see brief visions of the future. One of those glimpses involves the lives of three teens (Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, and Celeste O’ Connor) who are in the crosshairs of the villainous Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim).

 

In the comics, I’d wager Ezekiel probably had a sense of purpose or drive to what he’s doing. And it’s clear, in the previous version of this movie, that spirit may have existed. But somewhere along the lines, this character’s entire arch was completely retooled in favor of a bumbling quest to kill three teenagers because he saw a future in which they kill him. Didn’t we just see an entire prologue where he captured a powerful spider for the purpose of giving him superhuman capabilities? I feel bad for Rahim, a respectable performer, as every single line of his dialogue was poorly dubbed with the worst ADR you’ve ever heard. I’m convinced the actor’s real voice is used probably 15% of the time, and that’s being generous.

 

As for everyone else? Gosh where do we begin. Johnson and the entire ensemble look frantic and, honestly, sort of embarrassed. The movie has no thrills or suspense and is never grounded in a way that makes its hilarious narrative logistics seem even remotely feasible. Most of the film is spent with characters driving around in taxi’s or contending with clumsy needle drops of Brittany Spears’ “Toxic” while uttering dialogue like “I just want to go home and watch Idol.” Nothing spun in “Madame Web” is derived from any real stakes and it’s filled with lousy TV-grade level special effects. Not to mention the entire climax is basically an ad for Pepsi with key dramatic moments featuring the cola’s logo.

 

And yet, there is something oddly compelling about how awful “Madame Web” tuned out. How, in the world of studios taking tax write offs for completed projects, was this film able to see the light of day? How do you have Sydney Sweeney, one of the hottest stars on the planet, and showcase her in a Spider-Woman costume for approximately seven seconds? These are bumbling inquires that will plague the movie’s already fractured legacy. What’s even more ironic about the overall purpose of “Madame Web” is how it’s meant to establish a framework to exist within Sony’s beleaguered cinematic universe and sustain future installments. A bold strategy that will never payoff.

 

Grade: D 

 

MADAME WEB is now playing in theaters.


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