Madame Web turns the post-credits scene into the whole movie
13.02.2024 - 14:19
/ Dakota Johnson
Madame Web might be the most shameless superhero movie of all time. Far from just the cash-in that it seemed like a few years ago when this movie headlined by an F-tier superhero was first announced, Sony’s latest Marvel offshoot is a two-hour post-credits scene, made only intermittently tolerable by Dakota Johnson’s underappreciated knack for comedy.
[Ed. note: This review contains light setup spoilers for Madame Web.]
Madame Web, as it turns out, is actually a woman named Cassie Web (Johnson). We discover in the movie’s 1970s-set opening that Cassie’s mom researched spiders in the Amazon while pregnant with Cassie. After a predictable betrayal, Cassie’s mom ends up at death’s door when a tribe of spider-people (yes, there are spider-people in the Amazon rainforest) save her baby’s life using special venom from a rare super-spider. The movie then cuts forward to 2003, when Cassie is a paramedic in New York City, working with her best friend Ben Parker (Adam Scott). Yes, that Ben.
After literally dying one day during a call to save someone from a traffic accident, Cassie suddenly gains the power to see an indeterminate length of time into the future. Eventually, this power leads her to save the lives of three girls, Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney), Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced), and Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor), from a strange man that she foresees trying to kill them.
Cassie’s flashes forward in time are the most complicated part of Madame Web, and surprisingly, its most fun moments, too. While they’re often filmed in confusing ways, edited together too quickly for viewers to really track, and lacking a consistent enough visual language to be clearly legible, they’re saved almost entirely by Johnson, who reacts to these brief breaks from the fourth dimension with quixotic looks and genuinely hilarious sarcasm. Despite her press-tour uncertainty about the movie, she is far and away the brightest spot in Madame Web — at least when she isn’t buried under its wooden dialogue.
There are also flashes of promise from the trio of young women Cassie’s trying to save, but the movie somehow manages to squander the group’s remarkable collective charisma. Merced was surprisingly fun as live-action Dora the Explorer, O’Connor is one of the best parts of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Sweeney is a full-on movie star. But Madame Web doesn’t seem to have any interest in any of them, never cutting to get their reactions to anything, and rarely giving their jokes enough time to breathe or to let the audience laugh.
For all the wasted potential of Madame Web’s heroes, the movie’s biggest issue is its villain, Ezekiel Sims, played by Tahar Rahim in an astoundingly awful performance from an otherwise gifted actor.