Madame Web

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Madame Web
dir SJ Clarkson
prd Lorenzo di Bonaventura
scr Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Claire Parker, SJ Clarkson
with Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O'Connor, Tahar Rahim, Adam Scott, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts, Kerry Bishe, Zosia Mamet, Jose Maria Yazpik, Kathy-Ann Hart
release US/UK 16.Feb.24
24/US Columbia 1h57

rahim scott epps
london film fest

Is it streaming?

merced, johnson, sweeney and o'connor
Another Spider-Man spin-off, this stand-alone adventure has the usual problems with its uneven tone and overuse of digital effects. But even if it's relentlessly corny, there's some snappy attitude in this group of women taking on a villainous man. And some character-based sequences have comical and emotional energy that hints at what this might have become if it had been allowed to stray from the usual superhero blockbuster formula.
In 2003 New York, paramedic Cassie (Johnson) is rescued from an accident by her partner Ben (Scott) and begins to have glimpses of the future, which she can change if she thinks quickly enough. This is connected to her birth in Peru, where her mother (Bishe) was searching for a powerful spider when she was double-crossed by colleague Ezekiel (Rahim), who now uses his spidery powers to protect his future. His current targets are three teen girls (Sweeney, Merced and O'Connor), and Cassie is trying to protect them while also learning about her own abilities.
As an origin story, this is more convoluted than most. While the overall narrative holds the interest, the connective details never quite make sense. Most bizarre is that, right in the middle of the action, Cassie somehow takes a brief side trip deep into the Amazon looking for answers among a mythical spider-people tribe. All of this unfolds with a jarring blend of gritty action, physical humour and emotional punchlines. The script isn't tight enough to allow any of this to properly grab hold, but it's just about passable as mindless entertainment.

Johnson maintains a likeably bemused detachment, helped by the fact that Cassie doesn't understand her murky powers any more than we do. Because she can fix whatever nasty stuff she sees happening, there's not much suspense left for us to feel. Sweeney, Merced and O'Connor are enjoyably bratty kids who will someday become spider-women. They don't get much else to do here, but they have fun camping it up. On the other hand, Rahim is only allowed to glower, growl and deploy his own murky powers in murderous ways.

Amid the cheesier-than-usual digital effects, there are at least several strong female-fronted pop songs to keep us tapping our toes. There was clearly potential here to make either a goofy romp or a thoughtful thriller, but the writers never settle on a genre, so the story's ideas are unable take root. This leaves much of what's on screen feeling rather unimportant, including several repeatitive action beats. But there's just enough of a smirk behind the camera to keep us watching.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 13.Feb.24

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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall