No one ever tells you that if you’re clairvoyant, you will be stuck watching people you care about die over and over again. And if you’re in a movie about someone clairvoyant, you will be stuck reenacting said deaths repeatedly. This pretty much sums up Madame Web, the latest Marvel superhero movie from Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Madame Web is a character from the Spider-Man universe, and she first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man in the 1980s. In the comics, she is a blind, weathered, old woman, but in the movie, the character is played by 34-year-old Dakota Johnson. I know this has some fans questioning the film, but Madame Web takes place in 2003, putting her in her mid-fifties today. This is her origin story, and though there are many, many plot holes and a lot of character building missing, Madame Web still manages to be a pretty entertaining film, full of action and a few laughs.
We meet our mid-thirties Cassandra Webb, an orphaned paramedic who grew up in the foster system. Her mother died after giving birth while studying mysterious spiders that were said to have healing properties in Peru. Here, she is killed for her research and the spider she managed to catch. We learn about Las Aranas—a legend about spider-people in Peru—and we see mysterious red-suited creatures running across treetops to save the pregnant woman who has been shot.
After a near-death incident, Cassandra (Dakota Johnson) starts having extreme bouts of déjà vu. She begins to lose her sense of reality until she sees the death of a friend right before it happens and realizes there is something very real happening to her. On a train, Cassandra keeps flashing to three teens murdered, and she rushes to save their lives, becoming a wanted woman after people think she kidnapped them. We follow her on her journey to discover her powers and how they work to save the girls.
Watching Cassandra discover her powers is a pretty jarring experience, but one that was carried out extremely well. We see her envision the same moment, over and over again in Madame Web, losing the sense of what is real, what has actually happened, and what might happen. This is shown through small touches like a jacket being back on after taking it off and repeated conversations. Madame Web manages to share Cassandra’s confusion, leaving viewers just as unsure as she is.
Director S.J. Clarkson (Jessica Jones, The Defenders) manages to bring the power of clairvoyance to the screen without it feeling too campy. There are moments when we see Cassandra have what I’d call an out-of-body experience, but the use of lighting, blurred scenery, and quick flashes of the story in Madame Web effectively conveys what is going on.
There were very few moments where I thought CGI was too much or unnecessary. However, Madame Web’s big bad, Ezekiel Sims, felt off for me throughout the film. Something about his voice sounded processed, like something wasn’t quite right. It reminded me of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. It just didn’t sit right.
Though the other special effects are done well, Madame Web suffers from more than a few plot holes. The story happens quickly, and though time has passed, it really doesn’t feel like it. While Cassandra is a wanted woman for kidnapping, among other things, she just hops on a plane to Peru with no issue and, very easily and with almost no effort, masters her powers and heads back to the U.S. to save the day from this very super-powered man.
Johnson’s Webb tasks herself with protecting three teenagers from him: Julia Cornwall, played by Sydney Sweeney, Anya Corazon, played by Isabela Merced, and Mattie Franklin, played by Celeste O’Connor. Their characters are very much stereotypes pulled from any teen drama. Sweeny’s Julia is a timid kid with no confidence, but her performance felt extremely flat. It felt like an exercise in an acting class with no real thought or effort put into it.
O’Conner’s Mattie was a bratty teen with wealthy parents, armored by their attitude and wit. Merced’s Anya was the “smart one,” which obviously had to be displayed by speaking only of academics and doing fast math in her head. The cast wasn’t given anything real to work with here, and it is a shame, considering they are setting these characters up to be heroes of their own. We see flashes of them in super suits, but by the end of Madame Web, they still don’t have powers or original personalities.
As for the rest of the cast, Adam Scott as Ben and Emma Roberts as Mary are supporting actors. They are let in on the superpowers portion of the film and completely accept it without any real question. They’re even willing to babysit the three teens who are being hunted by a super-powered murderer. This is despite Mary being pregnant, almost at her due date, and ready to burst. Why not take on extreme danger?
Of course, since this is a superhero movie, anything that can go wrong has to go wrong. When Mary goes into labor a month early, conveniently, while they have been watching the teens for what feels like a few minutes, they rush to the hospital, put Mary in the back seat, and take all three teens who are being tracked with them. Because…why not?
I actually quite enjoyed Dakota Johnson’s character in Madame Web. She has a dry sense of humor, a lot of sarcasm, and isn’t quite cut out for kids. She very much plays as “one of the guys,” and that is something I can relate to. Her action sequences weren’t extremely complex, being that her power is her mind, but she did get to do a lot of her own stunt work, and it looked effortless.
There are a lot of themes in Madame Web surrounding abandonment, confidence, and found family, and without Johnson’s down-to-earth portrayal of Webb, I don’t think they would have hit home the way that they did. Many feel-good, after-school special moments come up, and I wish films surrounding women could find a better way to tackle these. It always feels like women-led films need to end in a group hug, and it leaves me rolling my eyes. Not to mention, she just…takes the kids. So that’s probably fine, right? Taking found family a bit into the kidnapping department if you ask me.
Madame Web is also a part of the Sony Spider-Man universe, so to the people hoping for a Tom Holland cameo, calm down. This film takes place before he would have been born. Though, there COULD be some Easter eggs, especially if you keep an eye on fellow characters. I didn’t catch it at first until I was reading up on some characters, but Madame Web makes creative references without really saying much. You get no spoilers from me. I will save you the suspense here, though: There is NO after the credits scene.
It has become apparent from how Dakota Johnson handles the Madame Web press tour that she doesn’t feel passionate about this film, and unfortunately, I can see why. Though Madame Web is a fun superhero romp, and I’m always here for some girl power, the writing didn’t do the characters justice. Between plot holes and characters that barely feel human, I am not enticed to care about a sequel to Madame Web, and it looks like that is what they were hoping for.
Madame Web Review: Plot Holes & Murder Aplenty
Madame Web is fun if you’re looking for a shallow superhero flick. Though there could be some real substance there, it feels like the writers took the easy way out.
Effects were well done
Dakota Johnson’s Cassandra Webb is down-to-earth
Managed to convey clairvoyance without being overly cheesy
Major characters felt shallow and phoned in
Plot holes left and right