MADAME WEB – Review – We Are Movie Geeks



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Hey “True Believers”, is it time for another trip into the Marvel Universe so early in the new year? Well, since the last adventure of the Ant-Man and the Wasp hit the multiplex almost on the same date last year, then it’s “Avengers Assemble” once more. But with a couple of big exceptions. You see, this isn’t a Marvel Studios production, rather it’s Sony “in association with Marvel” (small print on the poster, almost Scott Lang-sized). So, this is another effort by them to “spin-off” Spidey and bring another secondary character from the comics into their very own feature film. Oh, and the others were the “rouges gallery” AKA the bad guys. First, it was VENOM, who got a sequel followed by the disastrous MORBIUS, with KRAVEN “waiting in the wings” (probably sharpening his claws, too). Ah, but this time it’s another hero so Sony hopes that moviegoers will get tangled up in the strands spun by MADAME WEB.

Much like that vampire villain, this “origin story” starts in an exotic foreign land, far from NYC. In the rainforests of Peru circa 1973, a very pregnant Constance Webb (Kerry Bishe)is trying to find a rare strain of spider that can supposedly pass on miraculous powers and healing abilities. But when she’s successful her exploring partner Ezekel Simms (Tahar Rahim) steals it after shooting the whole research party and leaving Constance clinging to life. Luckily, the “spider-enhanced” local tribe retrieves her and delivers the baby before she passes away. Spring ahead to 2003 in the Big Apple as paramedics Cassie Webb (Dakota Johnson) and her partner Ben Parker (Adam Scott) respond to a traffic accident over a river. Cassie is trapped in a car that plummets into the water. Before she passes out she has a strange vision of light strands, and “ghost images”. Cassie awakens after Ben revives her. But the visions haunt her, and they happen again on a call as she sees a foreshadowed tragedy. Meanwhile millionaire Ekekel has nightmares of his own death at the hands of three costumed young women. He harnesses the powers of the rare spider to track down the trio, all high school-aged women. And somehow they all converge at Grand Central Station, just as Cassie is buying a ticket. On the train she sees a black-clad assassin kill them. But suddenly she snaps back and realizes these are images of what can happen. So Cassie goes into action to save Julia (Sydney Sweeney), Anya (Isabela Merced), and Mattie (Celeste O’Connor). Later the quartet is on the run from the arachid-like crawling killer, with Cassie as their “den mother”. Can she keep them safe? And what is her connection to their super-human hunter?

In between the big “evade and escape” action “set pieces” the cast does their best with their unevenly written roles. At the forefront is Ms. Johnson as the constantly evolving Cassie. We see her disconnect from humanity in the opening scenes (scoffing at a kid’s “thank you” crayon art), only bonding with her ambulance “side” man. Johnson shows her confusion as the “awakening” of her destiny forces her to become “engaged”. Ultimately she veers from nurturing “mama bear” to snarky “iron fist” as she gets her “gals” in line. Still, she doesn’t quite have the dynamism to convey the heroic leader mantle. Her “flock” are mainly teen flick cliches, though the actresses try to put a fresh “spin” on them. Sweeney upends her TV (and recent rom-com) persona as the timid, hesitant Julia, who begins to blossom around her new “sisters”. O’Connor is all sassy attitude as the pop tune-loving, skateboarder rich kid Mattie. As the dark, brooding but brilliant Anya, Merced brings a bit of soul to the often undefined neighbor of Cassie (Queens isn’t that small). Rahim gives good physical energy to the snarling, growling Ezekel who mainly barks threats when not suppressing his nightmare visions, and walking barefoot through the subway. Scott provides some much-needed humor as the confused but concerned “work buddy” Ben. Two terrific young actresses aren’t given much to work with in near-cameo roles. Emma Roberts is Ben’s expectant sister-in-law Mary who figures into the big finale, while Zosia Mamet is stuck at the computer monitors (yes, a spin on “the guy in the chair”) as Ekekel’s tech “tracker” Amaria.

In her feature film debut, TV director S.J. Clarkson works hard to get the pace taut while delving into the personality of Cassie Webb, but the sophomoric script derails her efforts. It all plays out as a superhero spin on the Terminator series, with Ezekel as the nearly indestructible seeker springing up to “jump-start” the sluggish plot and distract from the limp dialogue. He’s almost a spider-stalker, although he’s not spinning or swinging on web strands like our pal Petey making him look like a big silly black rubber frog as he jumps from buildings to the hoods of cars. Speaking of that, what kind of car can plow through the front of a building and drive off with merely a buckled hood? And that’s just one of the oddball story turns that rival the “skating on oil” ARGYLLE scenes. It’s tough to compellingly convey Cassie’s “power” as it’s really a barrage of “fake outs” to set up the big stunts, which become somewhat tedious, as does the bickering between the quartet. Oh, the tension is broken up so that Cassie can “dump” her charges on Ben in order to fly off for an absurd cave pool “therapy session”. I’m not spoiling things, but I should warn them about the “bait and switch” from the movie marketing team because these heroes only “suit up” for a minute or so of the nearly two hours. Ah, but there’s plenty of time for “in your face” product placement for that “other cola”. Plus, there are no bonus credit scenes, though the ending almost pleads for a follow-up franchise. There’s little chance of that since this initial entry should effectively squash the “spider sisterhood” led by MADAME WEB.

1.5 Out of 4

MADAME WEB is now playing in theatres everywhere

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.