Madame Web

Madame Web

2024, PG-13, 117 min. Directed by S.J. Clarkson. Starring Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Tahar Rahim, Celeste O'Connor, Emma Roberts, Adam Scott.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Feb. 16, 2024

Admit it – you were hoping for a car crash. The trailers were terrible, teasing subpar special effects and expository dialogue so deliciously clunky (“he was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died”) that the Internet feasted on its carcass for maximum meme-ification. A car crash would be more interesting. Madame Web is a fender bender – nothing calamitous, just a time suck. An annoyance. A waste.

Pretty silly, too. The script – credited to Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Claire Parker, and director S.J. Clarkson – tucks right into the Amazon-mom-researching-spiders soup with a Peruvian overture introducing eight-months-pregnant scientist Constance Webb (Bishé) and her local handler, Ezekiel Sims (A Prophet’s Rahim, whose mouth movements rarely seem to match his dialogue). Things go sideways, we briefly meet baby Cassie – Cassandra for the Greek mythology heads in the house – and then the story lurches 30 years in the future, to 2003, when now-adult Cassie (Johnson) is a hard-bitten paramedic with the New York Fire Department. After more things go sideways, Cassie gains the ability to see snippets of the future, and her fate becomes snarled with three teenage girls. Cue a series of uninspired, unintelligibly choreographed fight scenes made all the worse when, owing to Cassie’s soothsaying, we have to watch them not once but twice.

One of those teenagers is played by Sydney Sweeney, who, to be fair, rocketed to fame playing a teen on HBO’s Euphoria but is by now way too old to be cast as a high schooler, and dressing her up in thigh-high socks and a prep school mini skirt only makes it more awkward. Johnson at least has the good sense to move through the film with a beatific, “I can’t be bothered” smile that’s standing in for the side eye fairly radiating off her person.

Johnson will come out of this just fine, as will the other actors trudging through this joyless comic book spinoff. I doubt anybody’s reputation will get dinged too much, save first-time feature film helmer Clarkson, a veteran TV director who’s danced with Marvel property before on Jessica Jones and The Defenders. If you perked up at “Marvel,” note this is not an MCU property but rather part of Sony Pictures’ arrangement with Marvel to produce Spider-Man and Spidey-adjacent stories. The studio is contractually obligated to keep releasing new material in order to retain the rights, and boy does this movie feel like it’s just checking boxes and running the clock out – the cinematic equivalent of quiet quitting.

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Madame Web, S.J. Clarkson, Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Tahar Rahim, Celeste O'Connor, Emma Roberts, Adam Scott

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