Director: S. J. Clarkson Screenwriter: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Claire Parker, S. J. Clarkson Cast: Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O'Connor, Isabela Merced, Tahar Rahim, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts, Adam Scott Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing Running Time: 116 min. MPAA: PG-13

Much like Sony’s Morbius, Madame Web exists as a Marvel Comics film that only feels half there. It has the premise for something akin to Happy Death Day with its time-loop superpowers but instead favors a bland superhero plot of costumed heroes and villains. It has the potential to play with its material to make something more unique outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe but feels as wooden and disinterested in the material as though it were stuck in the MCU. At least this cinematic universe has consistency, considering this movie is just as lifeless and dull as Morbius.

It’s even more disheartening that the film has way more potential than Morbius. Cassie Web (Dakota Johnson) is an EMT from New York who discovers she has an inherited power of being clairvoyant. She can witness future events before they happen and prevent disaster, a gift from a tribe of mystical spider people Cassie’s mom befriended while in the wild. That would be a surprise if not for the fact that the film reveals all of this too early. Couple this with Cassie’s slow realization of her powers and past, and there’s a recipe for a bland superhero where Johnson would have to perform emergency acting CPR to revive this film. Sadly, her character only performs literal CPR in the film.

The same problems befoul the film’s antagonist, Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim). He has the same powers and a connection with Cassie’s mother, but his powers spoil a major reveal. He needs to kill the teenagers Julia Cornwall, Mattie Franklin, and Anya Corazon before they kill him. Why will they kill him? Don’t worry; the truth will be revealed in a major spoiler, robbing the film of what might have been a decent finale tease for future Sony Marvel movies.

But does Sony even care at this point? Between Morbius and Madame Web, this universe seems to be occupied by passive people, not the least bit mystified by the powers they are granted. Johnson’s performance feels so wooden and detached from the character to the point where it feels like she’s just going through the motions of a ho-hum comic book movie. I can’t say I blame her, considering the script she’s been handed. There’s a scene where she tells the three teenagers she’s trying to save that they shouldn’t do anything dumb. Mind you, she tells them this before enacting her plan to abandon them in the woods with no shelter or supplies because she thinks they’ll be safe there.

So much of this film is bound by its own explicable nature while still also feeling like a time-loop movie for dummies. There’s some awful ADR placed over a chunk of scenes that feels like useless exposition, as though either the executives or director has no faith in the audience being able to read the progression of Cassie’s powers. But then there are scenes that become baffling due to the lack of character growth and charisma. When Cassie finally learns the truth about her mother’s death, Cassie tearfully remarks how much she hated the mother she had never met. Were you? There’s rarely a moment where Cassie reveals the info with bitterness, treating it more like a matter-of-fact tragedy than anything else. This rushed development also makes the three teenagers little more than props for Cassie to save in her big superhero finale, although all three of them will apparently have superpowers (but not in this movie).

Madame Web weaves a sloppy comic book movie that is made all the worse for teasing a far better Marvel movie. It’s not fun watching a superhero have the predictive powers of the future, holding about as much fun as a passive gamer with cheat codes. A certain existential dread feels as though it might accompany such a power, similar to the way that Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan dealt with knowing the entire script of existence. None of that contemplation is present in such a film, which seems less concerned with the concept of time and more focused on whether or not Madame Web can stop the bad guy in the villain costume. Considering that a Pepsi sign ultimately defeats the villain – after the film already had Cassie prominently hold up a can of Pepsi for all to see – everything about this film feels like a banal corporate product, devoid of being distracting enough to make you forget why this film was ever made.

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