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‘Madame Web’ Review: Sony’s Half-Baked ‘Doctor Strange’ Parody

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Sony’s ever-expanding Spider-Man Universe continues with Madame Web, the franchise’s first female-led film and the first to feature actual spider-people as main characters. Dakota Johnson stars as Cassandra Webb, a clairvoyant paramedic trying to save three teenage girls from being murdered. While Madame Web teases exciting developments for the future of Sony’s cinematic universe, its sloppy and painfully generic execution pretty much guarantees we’ll never see that promised future. 

[Warning: some mild spoilers and impressions from Madame Web below!]

The problem with Sony’s Madame Web

Madame Web suffers from a problem that’s become completely unbearable: spending two hours teasing a story far more interesting than what’s happening on screen. While the plot sounds interesting on paper, the movie never truly comes together. Cassandra attempting to save the lives of three girls who grow up to become superhero vigilantes should be an exciting and engaging story. Unfortunately, it falls flat due to sloppy writing, strange editing choices, and the unshakeable sense that no one on screen wants to be there. 

When Madame Web was announced, it was sold as “Sony’s Doctor Strange”. That logline really excited me, since Cassandra Webb seemed to have endless potential. There are many Doctor Strange-like moments in Madame Web, but they’re so out of place and clearly unoriginal that they feel like a parody. In fact, I’m convinced one moment towards the end of the film is a deliberate copy of Doctor Strange’s ending, but since it didn’t have any emotional impact, all you can do is laugh at it. 

Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb
Dakota Johnson stars as Cassandra Webb in ‘Madame Web’ (Marvel/Sony Pictures)

In fact, the audience at Madame Web’s red carpet premiere laughed at the movie several times. There were some funny jokes, particularly those delivered by Celeste O’Connor, but most of the laughing came from ridiculously stupid moments that weren’t meant to be funny. 

Dakota Johnson is funnier than the awkwardly delivered trailer jokes suggest, but her performance feels listless and distracted (and not intentionally). Her character arc is confusing, especially in regard to an emotional third-act moment that doesn’t connect at all, since it comes out of nowhere. While her abilities are theoretically cool, they’re undercut by Cassandra’s real superpower: violently crashing stolen cars into unsuspecting bad guys. 

The villain, who’s basically just evil Spider-Man, brings nothing to the table besides the SSU’s first real costume. Every line of dialogue coming out of Tahar Rahim’s mouth felt stilted. Ezekiel Sims’s underdeveloped backstory certainly didn’t help.

Madame Web’s greatest strength

The best part of Madame Web by far is the chemistry between the three young women hunted by Ezekiel. Each of the actresses bring their characters to life beautifully, giving them tons more personality than anyone else in the film. Celeste O’Connor stands out as Mattie Franklin, while Isabela Merced is a breath of fresh air as Anya Corazon. Sydney Sweeney finally takes on a different type of role with Julia Cornwall and surprised me with her performance, particularly coming off a chemistry-less turn in Anyone But You

Spider-Women in Madame Web
Isabela Merced, Sydney Sweeney, and Celeste O’Connor in ‘Madame Web’ (Marvel/Sony Pictures)

The blossoming friendship between the three girls is believable and relatable, even though the circumstance they’re in is not. The diner scene is one of the best sequences in the film, which was also surprising since it didn’t look very interesting in the trailer. “Toxic” by Britney Spears can make any scene exciting, but the use of Cassandra’s clairvoyant abilities during the scene made it genuinely enjoyable.

Cassandra’s abilities did interest me at certain points, but they’re presented in a vaguely incoherent way that makes it hard to actually get excited. A mythological bent to the Spider-Man mythos adds another new dimension to the film, but doesn’t help it in the end, since its implications are never explored. 

The early 2000s setting adds a little more unique flair to the film and matches the vibe of the Venom films, but once again, not enough is done with the setting to make Madame Web feel unique. The camera work did feel unique to me since it wasn’t static, although the close-cropped shots and jerky movements didn’t really work for me. The final battle in particular feels more like watching a low-budget video game boss fight than something that belongs in a superhero movie.

Is this new Sony Marvel film worth your time?

In the end, Madame Web is exactly what its trailer suggested: a generic superhero flick that sets up a way more interesting sequel that will likely never happen. It’s disappointing to see another movie that wastes the audience’s time on a poorly-executed concept. Even the actors seem to agree, based on their halfhearted performances and Dakota Johnson’s press tour comments and attitude towards the film. 

There’s not even a tenuous connection to the rest of the SSU to excite fans who just want a little crossover tease. It would be awesome to see three Spider-Women team up to fight any of the villains running around this universe, but it doesn’t look like we’ll see these characters ever again.

I really thought Madame Web had potential when it was first announced. In the end, my one-minute conversation with Xochitl Gomez in the theater was more exciting than anything I saw on screen. The movie does have a few good moments, but I don’t feel it’s worth the time and money to see in theaters. Hopefully, Kraven the Hunter will be better? 

Madame Web lands in theaters February 14, 2024 . Do you plan on seeing it? Let us know what you think on social media @mycosmiccircus on in The Cosmic Circus Discord. 

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Uday Kataria

Hi! I'm a huge Marvel, DC, and LEGO fan. I run my own YouTube channel (GoldenNinja3000) and write/host podcasts for The Cosmic Circus. I also created and produced the LEGO Ninjago short film "Golden Hour".

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