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‘Madame Web’ review: The future is bleak

This clairvoyant superhero origin story starring Dakota Johnson is a failure in just about every way

Dakota Johnson in ‘Madame Web’
Dakota Johnson in ‘Madame Web’

Yet another superhero (albeit a small-time one) and yet another origin story. This time we follow Cassandra ‘Cassie’ Webb (what an unimaginative last name) as she discovers her superpower and purpose in the world. 

Madame Web comes from Sony's Spider-Man Universe. The film opens in the Amazon and then flashes forward to the year 2003. New York paramedic Cassie, played disinterestedly by Dakota Johnson, skillfully manoeuvres an ambulance around the city till she suffers an accident. When she regains consciousness, she is a changed person. Cassie can see visions of the future. One such vision brings her into contact with three teenaged girls Julia (Sydney Sweeney), Mattie (Celeste O’Connor) and Anya (Isabela Merced) on a train, moments before they could be destroyed by a violent man called Ezekiel Sims. What links Cassie to these characters, why does she feel this inexplicable need to protect them and what is Cassie’s own backstory?

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Cassie travels to Peru to delve into her past, where she learns that her clairvoyant abilities are linked to her mother’s experiences with a mystical spider in the Amazon. Gradually she learns to control and use this power, which, unfortunately, does not include any web-slinging, leaping, swinging arachnid superhero skills. But Madame Web does, eventually, connect to the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Her work colleague Ben Parker’s (Adam Scott) sister Mary (Emma Roberts) is pregnant with a boy. Join the dots. 

Ezekiel Sims is obsessed with annihilating the teens before they kill him. The character’s motivations, his power and abilities to crawl on roofs and his amped-up strength are unexplained. Actor Tahar Rahim is miscast in the part, with director S.J. Clarkson often shooting him from the back or keeping him just out of the shot, with just a voiceover. When he is not costumed in a dark Spider-Man type bodysuit, Rahim is just snarly. Conversely, Johnson is detached, as if completely aware of the shambolic script unfolding around her, against a poorly executed visual effects-heavy canvas. She's on form as the paramedic and quite lost when she's not.

Writers Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Claire Parker and Clarkson have tweaked an iconic Spider-Man dialogue to “When you take on the responsibility, great power will come”. It’s a line that appears to be offered as a claps-and-whistles moment for diehard fans, but it most likely ties in with a feminist message that also teases a sequel featuring the trio and Madame with funky costumes and mad fighting skills. 

Add Madame Web to a growing list of unimaginative, unenjoyable superhero films that includes Aquaman 2, Shazam! Fury of the Gods and Black Adam.

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