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February 2024


Madame Web


Sony Pictures Releasing // Directed by S.J. Clarkson // Starring Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O'Connor, Emma Roberts, Adam Scott, Tahar Rahim


We all know studios have some kind of say in the films that they distribute and release. Why wouldn't they? After all, they are ploughing hundreds of millions of dollars into productions and feel that gives them a seat at the table behind the camera. When studios have as much of a say as Sony clearly did with Madame Web, it almost makes a review impossible, because this is a true mess of a film. Narratively, Madame Web is rudimentary but feels almost monolithic compared to the screenplay, but the horrifyingly bad editing and tonal shifts smack firmly of a film that was completed before being butchered by execs wanting to ride the wave of the superhero genre - and in doing so, have created the banalest, most generic, and pointless release the genre has seen in many, many years. The positives are few and far between sadly as the action and production design do nothing to lift the film from its basement, and the performances...well, sigh. Dakota Johnson must have a large cellular bill as she is phoning this in from the get-go, especially when having to participate in anything superhero-related. That said, I find Johnson to be gleefully watchable even in films such as this (her press tour performance was worth all the money, however). Sydney Sweeney, who I think is a very strong actress, is abysmal alongside O'Connor, and I don't recall Merced really doing anything, but special praise must go to Tahir Rahim who was handed a terrible role and simply had no idea what to do with it. Superhero film villains are often derided as weak and one-dimensional and nothing in Madame Web proves this to be wrong. I had hoped that Madame Web would at least be entertaining even if it was bad, but the film takes itself so seriously that even finding moments of levity feels like a bridge too far - though maybe the hamfisted references to Peter Parker count as comedy? Whatever the case from the beginning to its wholly unearned ending, Madame Web struggles against a studio that is desperate to create its own universe, but seemingly has no concept of how to do so. Making good films is a start, and Sony, with their live-action Spidey universe, is failing badly at that.

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