Madame Web review: "Disappointing, but we all saw it coming"

 Dakota Johnson as Cassie in Madame Web.
Dakota Johnson as Cassie in Madame Web.

Sony Pictures’ quest to extend their live-action Spider-Verse beyond the MCU continues with this spin-off starring Dakota Johnson as clairvoyant ambulance driver Cassandra Webb.

Eschewing comics history, the film ditches the blind, elderly wheelchair user as she first appeared in favour of Johnson’s socially anxious take on the character. Her hitherto hidden abilities unlocked following a freak accident, Cassie finds herself entangled in the lives of three teenagers (played by Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor,and Sydney Sweeney) and their would-be killer, sinister Spider-person Ezekiel (Tahar Rahim).

Director S.J. Clarkson won’t be held back by the lack of actual Spider-Man in her Spider-film, throwing all manner of webslingers at the wall to see what sticks. In addition to Web(b), Ezekiel, and a tribe of Spider-Men, this includes three future Spider-Women and Uncle Ben too (Adam Scott, bringing charisma sorely lacking elsewhere).

While the visuals are refreshingly clean and grounded for a modern superhero film, the story is bogged down by exposition and egregious product placement. Its genre aspirations are admirable – slasher callbacks and a cute Final Destination 2 homage – but it’s hard to shake the sense that it’s more interested in shilling a well-known fizzy-drinks brand. What’s more, any character development feels unearned, not to mention ill-served by the generally poor performances.

Rather than kicking off a new universe of heroes, Madame Web feels more like a failed TV pilot of yore, complete with sluggish action and cheap-looking costumes. Lacking the crazed constitution of Sony’s Venom or even Morbius, it doesn’t have the grace to have fun with its IP-riffing. Disappointing, but we all saw it coming…

Madame Web is in US theaters and UK cinemas now.