Madame Web Weaves Another Film Set Within The Spider-Man Universe

Sony’s management of Spider-Man has resulted in lackluster offshoots from that universe, ranging from “Venom” (moderately successful yet lacking in quality) to “Morbius” (unsuccessful and lamentable). However, in terms of individual allure, “Madame Web” probably stands as the least promising of these ideas, giving rise to a film that strongly suggests it would be better suited for a streaming series, and even then, this notion might be seen as a thin proposition.

Certainly, this film featuring Dakota Johnson portraying a relatively unknown Spider-Man character would have faced challenges even under the most favorable circumstances. However, with the superhero genre experiencing a downturn, its outlook appears particularly bleak. The main issue lies with a protagonist whose abilities are purely mental, dampening any potential excitement surrounding the premise.

“Madame Web” does have some advantages, primarily existing as an independent origin story set in 2003, with subtle (and somewhat clever) ties to more familiar material. Yet, even the most devoted Marvel enthusiasts may struggle to connect deeply with a narrative built upon such fragile foundations.

The story begins in a remote area of Peru, where a scientist’s pursuit of a spider rumored to possess remarkable healing abilities leads to the birth of a child unaware of her extraordinary talents. This spider also grants a villain (portrayed by Tahar Rahim from “The Mauritanian”) with tangible spider-like powers, and haunts him with visions of three teenagers who will ultimately bring about his downfall.

Fast forward three decades, and Cassie (played by Johnson) works as a paramedic alongside her partner Ben (Adam Scott, somewhat underutilized in this role). A near-death experience triggers unsettling visions hinting at Cassie’s ability to foresee the future.

The future depicted in the film offers glimpses of the peril awaiting the teenagers, portrayed by Sydney Sweeney (who might have reconsidered her involvement had she foreseen the success of “Anyone But You”), Isabela Merced (formerly known for her role as Dora the Explorer, now portraying a more mature character), and Celeste O’Connor (recognized for her role in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”).

Director S.J. Clarkson collaborated with three others on the problematic script, resulting in a fairly brisk pace that fails to fully compensate for its instances of overly awkward dialogue. This challenge is partly due to the necessity of introducing not only Cassie but also the young trio under her care, whose personalities and interactions are constrained by narrow Disney Channel-esque stereotypes.

Zooming out, Sony will attempt another “from the pages of Spider-Man” film later this year with the long-awaited “Kraven the Hunter,” which at least adheres to the more traditional elements of an action-oriented narrative.

In the end, “Madame Web” may have appeared to be an intriguing experiment, and to some extent, it is, but its implementation comes across more as an elongated setup for a future film rather than a fully developed standalone feature. Even without possessing a supernatural ability to foresee the future, based on this initial presentation, such an outcome seems excessively optimistic.

“Madame Web” debuts in US theaters on February 14 and carries a PG-13 rating.

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