de facto film reviews 1 star

It would be an understatement to say the Sony-Marvel universe has not achieved the same success as the MCU. While  the superhero genre as of this writing has experienced a cultural shift where audiences have become less and less willing to check out a Marvel or DC film simply based off the brand, the Sony Spider-Man spinoff films have never been total guarantees. The Venom films are fun palette cleansers, with much of the charm coming from the unhinged dual work from star Tom Hardy, and made boatloads of money. However, their other villain spinoff Morbius became a now-notorious flop and garnered the type of reception not seen in the genre since 2004’s Catwoman. Their other film Kraven the Hunter was pushed back an entire year and is currently slated for late August. The bar for these spinoffs has been set to “entertaining junk food” and their lowest is “cinematic disaster”.

While Marvel is having its fair share of issues both with its line-up of films and a dwindling interest in their output, they have a proven track record of unbelievable success. The last time Sony execs had their plans of spinoff films stemming from Spider-Man, it was in 2014 with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which was such a mess it caused the studio to partner with Marvel Studios and reboot the character with Tom Holland just two years later. Audiences simply haven’t shown interest in these spinoffs of characters they’ve never seen before with sorta-kinda connectivity to Holland’s Spider-Man.So the film adaptation of the character Madame Web, a relatively unknown — to most audiences — Spider-Man character that is wheelchair bound and an elderly woman seems like a baffling creative decision.

Not helping matters is the infamous trailer that was instantly clowned upon by social media. The abysmal trailer came with endless memes surrounding the confused set up and awkward lines of dialogue, most infamously “he was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died”; a line that is not actually in the film. Not to mention the bizarre, yet admirably blunt media tour from star Dakota Johnson who seemed to drag the film at every opportunity. So when history looks back at this moment — and it will — it should be noted that Madame Web, itself, is not offensively bad, but it is offensively dull.

Courtesy Sony Pictures

The year is 2003 and Cassandra Web (Dakota Johnson) is a paramedic who survives a near-death experience on the job. In fact, she does die for all of three minutes. Now, Cassie discovers she now has clairvoyant powers and has visions of the near future. When she gets visions of three teenage girls (Sydney Sweeney, Isabella Merced, Celeste O’Connor) getting murdered by the mysterious Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), Cassie takes the three teenagers under her wing to protect them and join forces to discover the truth of why they’re being hunted in the first place.

Madame Web is not some unfathomable disaster, but rather a remarkably lazy Terminator ripoff in disguise. Most notable film disasters typically have a basis of inspiration, but you’ll struggle to find any here. This is the kind of uninspired mess that feels like everyone was here for a paycheck. Director SJ Clarkson, a tv veteran with plenty of strong work under her belt, is unable to inject life into a sleepy, and clearly rewritten, script with an inconsistent style of direction; often utilizing dutch angles to overcompensate for such flat expository dialogue. Cassie’s visions are often shot in tight close-ups with jarring editing that makes it difficult to decipher exactly what’s going on. Some attempts at staging are admirable with fluid camera movement, while other sequences are riddled with chaotic camera work. The few action sequences that are here are completely lifeless, failing to evoke any thrills. The 2003 period setting is typically clumsy, even with an amusing use of Britney Spears’ Toxic during a critical set piece. Arguably, the most this film has in common with its setting is that it feels like a superhero film from the early 2000’s. This movie wishes it had the entertainment factor of the Ben Affleck Daredevil.

Dakota Johnson wills whatever ounce of charm she can out of the material, despite being laden with some abhorrent dialogue and even worse ADR. Her deadpan delivery is responsible for the only glimpses of a spark in the entire film. The supporting cast mostly serve as stock characters whose motivations are merely dictated by where the plot needs them in the next scene. It’s not an exaggeration to say most of Tahar Rahim’s dialogue is noticeably dubbed over in post. Rahim, a very fine actor who has worked with the eclectic filmmakers such as Asghar Farhadi and Jacques Audiard is given such a thankless villain role, one that is insultingly thin and flimsy. His villain is a clear case of messy post production work that indicates just how slapdash much of this production feels.

Courtesy Sony Pictures

There are countless plot holes for even the most basic of plot setups, despite most of the middle act being centered around Dakota Johnson babysitting three teenagers — granted, casting Sydney Sweeney as a teenager has been outdated since the first season of Euphoria. The attempts to tie itself to Spider-Man lore are mostly awful because they can never fully commit to how much they want to feel connected. Cassie’s work partner is none other than Ben Parker (Adam Scott), who at one point mentions he found a new girlfriend, but when asked what her name is, responds with a dramatic pause. Emma Roberts makes a brief appearance as a pregnant Mary Parker, the ill-fated mother to Peter, and the avenues Madame Web goes down to avoid saying her baby’s name is quite baffling.

Some of the marketing has heavily featured female superheroes in action, donning spider-suits and all. Despite the genre the film is technically a part of, you would be wrong to assume that would be a major point of the film. In fact, it’s actually a bit of a spoiler to showcase the stars in those suits as it takes place in a vision from the future. Imagine if you had a Spider-Man film, and the only time you get to see Spider-Man in action is in a 90-second vision of the future. It’s precisely that moment from Uncut Gems when Kevin Garnett says to Sandler’s Howard Ratner, “why the fuck would you show it to me if I can’t have it?”.

Courtesy Sony Pictures

Madame Web is not some next-level disaster, but an incredibly misguided and lame cash grab. Dakota Johnson channels all the star power she can to elevate the material, but she’s unable to rise above baffling creative decisions and poor execution. This is an enormous time waster that fails to accomplish little of its already low measure of success.

Madame Web is now playing in theaters.