Madame Web Review

Madame Web
Cassie Web (Dakota Johnson) is just an ordinary ambulance driver — until one day, a near-death experience awakens dormant psychic powers.

by Catherine Bray |
Published on
Original Title:

Madame Web

Early on in Madame Web — the latest superhero film to be based on a Spider-Man-adjacent comic series — Dakota Johnson’s Cassie Web rejects a thank-you gift from the child of a woman whose life she just saved. From this, you can probably surmise that firstly, she’s awkward around kids, and secondly, she will eventually end up having to protect some kids. Like many heavily telegraphed moments in this film, you won’t need psychic powers to figure that one out — even if Cassie herself does, in fact, shortly develop such powers.

Madame Web

But if you did have psychic powers, you might have wanted to use them to gently warn the cast away from this film, which manages to be both over-written and underwritten at the same time. Most of the actors here are wonderfully talented, but there’s only so much they can do with the material. A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim, so often a blistering presence, is left to thankless grumpy villain duties here; Adam Scott, fresh off his unimprovable turn in Severance, takes on a curious incarnation of Spidey’s Uncle Ben; Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced and Celeste O’Connor, as Spider-Women, have very little to do here.

Where the dialogue needed wit and spark, it has the kind of will-this-do one-liners.

There is, perhaps, a bit less digital mulch sloshing around in Madame Web than in some recent superhero films. This is the result of a smaller and more self-contained story, involving the kind of nifty time-loop dilemmas familiar from small-screen sci-fi. But where the dialogue needed wit and spark, it has the kind of will-this-do one-liners (“Hope the spiders were worth it, Mom!”) and tired backstories you get when the characters are too flat to flesh out with rounded personalities. (Some unconvincing ADR smacks of a last-minute attempt to fix things in the edit.)

Like the last remnants of a lost civilisation poking through the wreckage of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, hints of classical storytelling survive. The fateful legacy of a birthright inherited from a dead parent gives Cassie’s arc a Freudian motif, while the villain attempting to wipe out the next generation due to a premonition that they will cause his own downfall is a more interesting and personal motivation — at least on the page — than another bad guy wanting to destroy the universe. And instead of Chekhov’s gun, we get a new twist on an old favourite in the form of ‘Chekhov’s CPR’. It’s not enough to offset the creeping sense that, when it comes to the franchise sometimes known as the Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters (SPUMC), the word ‘Marvel’ is synonymous less with a sense of awe than with a shrug.

Madame Web isn’t much worse than the rest of the SPUMC, give or take, but it’s not really better, either. Its minimal saving grace is that it doesn’t require much familiarity with the wider universe.
Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us