Madame Web

Celeste O’Connor, Dakota Johnson, Isabela Merced, and Sydney Sweeney star in a scene from the movie “Madame Web.” (OSV News photo/Sony)

NEW YORK (OSV News) – As origin stories for Marvel Cinematic Universe characters go, “Madame Web” (Sony) is notable for being particularly abrasive, sour and gloomy. That’s surprising given that this fourth film in the Spider-Man series is meant to be something of a conversion story.

In need of attitude adjustment is misanthropic New York City emergency medical technician Cassandra “Cassie” Webb (Dakota Johnson). She gets her opportunity for uplift when she becomes a reluctant mentor to three teen girls: Julia (Sydney Sweeney), Mattie (Celeste O’Connor) and Anya (Isabela Merced).

Under her guidance, Cassie’s trio of proteges will eventually become the second and third Spider-Woman and Araña, respectively.

Director S.J. Clarkson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless and Claire Parker, is at great pains to show Cassie as essentially mature and moral. The script also charts Cassie’s efforts to cope with the emotional damage caused by the foster-care childhood she was forced to endure after her mother died in childbirth.

Back in 1973, pregnant mom Constance (Kerry Bishé) was exploring the Peruvian jungle for a spider whose venom was thought to have the potential to heal various neuromuscular diseases. No sooner had she captured one, though, than she was shot and killed by fellow explorer Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim).

Sims’ motive was his belief that the toxin Constance was after would give him the power for world domination. Sound familiar? Before dying at Sims’ hands, however, Constance was bitten and the poison altered Cassie’s DNA.

Some 30 years later, a near-death experience during one of her rescue missions reveals that Cassie has two superpowers. The first is, of course, the beloved ability to shoot out silken threads. The other is the capacity to see into the future, thereby anticipating danger. But this latter gift is limited to a period of just five minutes.

Cassie’s clairvoyance ultimately turns out to be nothing short of annoying for viewers as they bounce back and forth between being able to see what she sees and being abruptly returned to current reality. After the first three instances of such shuttling, the stunt loses all appeal.

Ezekiel, meanwhile, has resurfaced in the guise of a dark and very evil Spider-Man. He’s being tormented by visions of Cassie’s young charges who, he’s convinced, will somehow be the cause of his death. Using his access to every security camera on the planet, he hunts them down in the hope of slaying them first.

Before settling into its paces as a conventional thriller filled with car crashes and bad decisions by all involved, the movie takes on an ugly foreboding tone. Every small noise is amplified into a portentous creak or explosion. Yet the explanation of their supposed significance never arrives.

As for Cassie’s transition from cynic to nurturing role model, it’s too hurried to be convincing.

The film contains pervasive physical and gun violence, including a scene of mortal peril for an infant, fleeting profanity and at least one rough term. The OSV News classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.


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