In Review: Madame Web

Reviewed by Tim Robins

The biggest problem about Madame Web may well be getting to see it at the cinema. After the Valentine’s Day opening weekend and half-term was over, my local Odeon reduced screenings to one a day, and scheduled it long after my teatime. 

Cineworld did offer more and earlier chances to see the film, but they were on their 4DX screen which comes with “stimulating effects like water, wind, scent and strobe lighting.” I have a contact allergy to scent but my main worry was that the, to quote, “extreme sensory cinema” could involve the ushers throwing webs and spiders in my face or, worse, throwing spiders actually in their webs at my face.

Madame Web has caught immediate, disparaging criticism for all the things I’ll mention here and much, much more. But it is actually an okay adventure, that would serve as a fun pilot for a CW-Arrowverse series in an alternate universe to SPUMM – Sony Pictures’ Universe of Marvel Movies (© Mr Sunday Movies).

The plot sees ne’er do well researcher Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim) and a pregnant Constance Webb voyage to the jungles of Peru in search of a rare spider with healing properties. Webb is shot by Sims and dies after giving birth to a daughter, Cassandra, while Sims flees the scene. 

Skip forward thirty years or so and paramedic Cassandra (Dakota Johnson) develops the power to intermittently see the future. Sims has also developed precognitive powers and has seen himself in a costumed life or death battle with other spider-powered heroines – Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney), a young woman who has had a variety of identities in the comics including Spider-Woman (II), Arachne (II) and Madame Web (II),  Anya Corazon, the Spider-Girl (Isabela Merced) and Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor), who is yet another Spider-Woman. 

So, Madame Web is an origin story of sorts, slowly bringing the movie character in line with her comic counterpart, who is an elderly, blind woman, unable to walk, and kept alive by a web of life support systems. Such is the way of things in fiction. Powers and disabilities are held in a kind of “just-world” scenario in which disabilities in one area are balanced by super-abilities in another.  

The problems with the movie have been repeated over-and-over again on social media. One line of terrible expository dialogue that only appears in a trailer has even managed to become a meme, “He was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died.”

Then there are the weird time anomalies. Events are supposed to take place in 2003, but a character on a train is seen playing a PSP that was not available anywhere until two years later. Then there are characters surprised reactions to a mobile phone (!?). We’re told by a DJ that Britney Spears song “Toxic” has just been released but, in the very next scene, one character knows all the lyrics (plausibly, an act of overnight devotion). Incidentally, the songs in the soundtrack are often only approximately around 2003.

The Additional Dialogue Recording (ADR) has rightly attracted some comment. Apart from Rahim’s flat delivery, ADR has clearly been used to rewrite the plot. There is a scene in which he bends over to whisper in a character’s ear, but starts talking before he even gets close. I think we are going to have to accept that, these days, principal photography can be only a small element of a film and is sandwiched between special effects scenes and whenever a studio decides what the plot should have been.

None of the Hollywood companies, be it Sony, Warner or Disney, entirely have a handle on what makes the characters popular and  what seem to be increasingly befuddled rewrites and reshoots are leaving audience interest on the cutting room floor. The point of releasing (or not releasing) any of these films has become increasingly hard to find  or follow.

In the case of Madame Web, we are left with a reasonably enjoyable film that actually has some good action sequences and at least tries to offer something new to the superhero genre. The film is not entirely without a sense of humour, riffing on the line “With great power comes great responsibility”, foreshadowing (trolling) the fate of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben and actually using Pepsi’s product placement to squash the villain. And, as everyone has pointed out, at least the film is not as bad as Morbius

Online, it is now being suggested that Marvel has been desperately trying to divert attention from Wadame Webb, particularly with their announcement of the new cast of The Fantastic Four. I can certainly understand their fears that Madame Web might negatively extract from MCU products. With Tom Holland set to reprise the role of Spider-Man, I’m sure that Disney don’t want the audience to develop arachnophobia.

 Tim Robins 

 • Madame Web is in cinemas now. Allegedly.

Categories: Features, Film, Other Worlds, Reviews, US Comics

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