MADAME WEB

★★

HER WEB CONNECTS TO A NEW CAMP CLASSIC

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Chris Dos Santos
14th February 2024

Sony's Spider-Man Universe (SSU) - and yes, that's the official term, is a wild beast. A film franchise about characters in Spider-Man's world is not a bad idea; there is a lot to pull from, but when you add the link to MCU you can see how this can become messy. The MCU wasn't the start of this idea with both the Raimi and Webb films having plans for spin-offs, but when the deal was struck with Marvel Studios to divide the characters of Spider-Man, it really began to take shape. Of course, this started with 'Venom' and its sequel, which both saw huge box office success but less-than-stellar critical reception. But then came 'Morbius' and shone a light on everything wrong with this universe; it was just a trainwreck. Now it's 2024 and the SSU has the strongest superhero presence of the year with 'Kraven the Hunter', 'Venom 3' and today's film 'Madame Web' - the MCU only has one release slated and DC has none - but does this franchise really have a strong enough web to stand on its own?

 

'Madame Web' follows Cassie Webb (Dakota Johnson, 'Cha Cha Real Smooth', 'The High Note') whose mother passed away when she was born and she doesn't know the full story. She begins to see visions of the future that send her directly into the target of Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim, 'Napoleon', 'Mary Magdalene'). On the subway she has vision of Julia (Sydney Sweeney, HBO's 'Euphoria', 'Anyone But You'), Mattie (Celeste O'Connor, 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife', 'Freaky') and Anya (Isabela Merced, 'Dora and the Lost City of Gold', 'Spirit Untamed') being killed by him and saves them from their fate and on a path to uncover her past.

SWITCH: 'MADAME WEB' TRAILER

 

'Madame Web' takes place in 2003, and while it doesn't ascetically take much from that time period it sits right alongside the likes of 'Catwomen', 'Daredevil' and 'Fantastic Four'.  It's a messy, campy treat and it's very clear that wasn't its intent. Like 'Morbius', this feels so cut together with large chunks clearly left sitting on the cutting room floor. The film zooms by with no time left to catch your breath; the CGI is truly PlayStation 2-level graphics. Though the film fails at every turn, I had such a blast.

 

Of course, the film feels the need to remind you that this takes place in the 'Spider-Man' world, but most very clearly this film either edited them out or has just so poorly written them. Being set in 2003 there was two ways they could have gone, and I think the one that makes sense is to set it in the Sam Raimi films, where Peter Parker already exists. We understand that the multiverse exists so a good way to further tie this to the MCU is to tap into the fact this franchise can take place in any of the previous SSU films. Instead, what I think they were going for was this being the MCU Spider-Man existing at a time where he wasn't yet born. Adam Scott (TV's 'Parks and Recreation',  'Krampus') plays Ben Parker, a character not yet portrayed in the MCU and Emma Roberts ('Maybe I Do', 'The Hunt') plays a pregnant Mary Parker. For me, this was the weakest part of the film - none of this needed to be here and just bogs down the story for cheap fan service.

 

The film markets this like it's a team-up between four Spider-Women, but that is far from what this is. We see the character with powers once in a vision then again in another vision at the end. 'Madame Web' doesn't even wear a super suit until the credits, and it's shot like a commercial with her suiting up in a blue void. As mentioned, the film feels very chopped together, with its runtime changed several times in the lead-up to release, so I suspect the Spider-Women being Spider-Women saw a lot of editing. Even with the cuts, by the 90-minute mark - when the film only has 26 minutes to go - you could feel the audience losing interest. I don't know how they could have edited this down even further and still have it appear coherent. They really needed to smooth out the third act as it drags with Madame Web leaving to go discover her past and then returning for the finale battle. Maybe cutting a lot of those weak Spider-Man connections so she leaves earlier in the run time could have helped the flow.

‘Madame Web’ takes place in 2003, and while it’s doesn’t ascetically take much from that time period it sits right alongside the likes of ‘Catwomen’, ‘Daredevil’ and ‘Fantastic Four’. It’s a messy, campy treat and it’s very clear that wasn’t its intent.

 

Her visions of the future always play out so literally. We see it happen, then it resets and the scene plays out again with her confused as to what's going on before changing the outcome. In the finale battle - truly one of my favourite scenes of the year - the way her power is portrayed is all dialogue-driven; she just shouts out what everyone has to do. It's so lazy but so delightful to see it unfold. The finale battle also has some wild action beats that you just need to see to believe, all tied up in a beautiful CGI fireworks display and Pepsi product placement.

Of all the Spider-Man characters to get a spin-off, 'Venom' is still the only one to make sense - 'Morbius' and 'Madame Web' just don't have the story to carry a movie without Parker. I understand they don't just want to do literal Spider-Man clones with the same powers and abilities, but these lesser-known characters can't continue to be at the forefront. You can see how they could be, but they always fail because they are too afraid to not mention Spider-Man because they want it to have mass appeal - and that's where they start to fall apart. But you run into this problem of alienating audiences because he isn't mentioned but really the way to fix this is just to make them good, which four films in doesn't seem possible.

 

I could sit here and list everything wrong with 'Madame Web' - and boy, there are a lot - every performance is from a different film and Johnston is the only one who knows the mess she is in, the terrible CGI, the messy editing, everything that could be wrong with a film is present here. But it truly is just such a mess that it's fun; it's bad, don't get me wrong, but compared to 'Morbius' which felt like a chore to watch, this is truly my new go-to bad movie night film. It's endlessly quotable and I can't wait to re-watch it with a bunch of friends and fully embrace the web!

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