Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Traditional Expectations

Madame Web violates preconceived notions, as demonstrated by the dull preview and its February release date, which is comparatively less prestigious. The Spider-Man film from Sony lacks depth and doesn’t have the charisma that is usually associated with superhero films. While never called Madame Web, the main character comes from the fringes of the Marvel multiverse, continuing Sony’s practice of exploring obscure characters, similar to how they handled Morbius and Venom. The film falls short of being a memorable disaster, but it also fails to make an impression that is worth remembering. The action scenes lack originality, the dialogue frequently makes people chuckle unintentionally, and the story is preposterous. However, dim flashes of intelligence and skill do occasionally surface. The film’s star, Dakota Johnson, is particularly noteworthy for her ability to portray a sense of detachment from the ridiculousness surrounding her role. It distinguishes her from other actors who usually try to rescue mediocre material. Johnson skillfully rises above the film’s flaws, keeping a calm distance from the action all along.

It is a low-stakes superhero origin story that centers on an amazing performance by Johnson. But at its spectacular finale, S.J. Clarkson’s directorial debut—following a lengthy television career—becomes visually disorganized. Much of the language in the story is heavy exposition, often used for humorous effect as Johnson’s character Cassie Webb explains the strange events that are happening all around her over and over, getting more and more frustrated in the process. However, with its information dumps, the script—credited to writers Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless of Morbius and Clarkson & Claire Parker—often accidentally veers into dull humor.

When Madame Web appeared in pulp fiction, she was portrayed as an elderly, blind wheelchair user with remarkable psychic talents. But in the adaptation, she appears as a nimble Gen X ambulance driver who has vivid visions of approaching catastrophes and the awareness to stop them. She can also be in two places at once. Although not without value, the abilities seldom justify a stand-alone origin story, and their recurrence eventually becomes tedious. Her visions have a spooky tone that is reminiscent of sequences from Final Destination, but its impact is lessened because Cassie can change the course of events.

In the Spider-Man mythos, Madame Web is a mystery clairvoyant who was first encountered by the webslinger in 1980. She is frequently shown as lying back on a life support system that resembles a flask with a circular bottom. Sick with blindness and a crippling autoimmune disease, she usually wears a black unitard with spiderweb accents and a unique black-and-white haircut that makes her look like Peter Parker’s editor, J. Jonah Jameson. Her voice has been described as sounding like the crackling of old parchment, with an elegant entrance that conjures up aromas of ozone, disinfection, and antiquity.

The kinds of difficulties might be expected when a new character is introduced to a large audience. However, in the middle of the comic book film glut right now, Madame Web is a welcome diversion from the dark, post-apocalyptic stories that most comic book films give because of its surprisingly fast pacing. Not even with the presence of a talented actor like Johnson, who plays it cautiously, maybe expecting something similar to happen to her as in Catwoman, but the film was never meant to compete with the elaborate, elaborate productions typical of Disney’s Avengers series. The overall quality is diminished by the screenplay’s intricacies, mediocre action scenes, and obvious financial constraints in the visual effects. One especially uncomfortable scene is a recurring visual pattern that shows Cassie trapped inside a low-budget plasma orb with static tendrils all around it.

Cost and Comparison

But even with the drawbacks, the price of entry is still on a level with better famous Marvel properties, so it begs the question of why one would settle for a mediocre knockoff. Johnson’s portrayal of Cassie deviates greatly from the conventional portrait by showing her as a young, free-spirited person who enjoys patchouli and cannabis in contrast to her expert abilities as a paramedic in New York. Although her potential is yet untapped at the beginning of the film, her adventure takes place against the backdrop of a terrible past—a common occurrence for superheroes—to which Johnson’s genuinely endearing personality lends a relatable human touch. If the actress at times seems confused by the way the film is directed, it’s because she defies the artificiality that Hollywood’s apparatus often forces upon her. Johnson defies the plot devices placed upon her character by using her genuineness as her superpower.

In a flashback scene that takes place in the Peruvian Amazon in 1973, viewers see a heavily pregnant Constance go out to find a rare type of spider that is said to have therapeutic abilities. In 2003, Constance’s daughter Cassie is an adult working as a paramedic in New York City—her home of Queens, which also happens to be in the same neighborhood as the renowned Peter. When Cassie accidentally falls into the river while working on a terrifying bridge rescue with her coworker Ben, she experiences a sensory awakening similar to Spider-Man’s. She then has a lot of confusing future visions, but others around her are skeptical, which is made worse by the fact that her given name is Cassandra, a reference to the legendary prophet. At a crucial point, Cassie, represented by her metaphorical “blood-stained” hands, struggles with the ethical conundrum of anticipating a catastrophe without having the tools to prevent it.

Though the idea of going back and having multiple chances to make things right isn’t entirely novel—it bears comparisons to films like Groundhog Day, Final Destination, and Happy Death DayMadame Web succeeds in creating engaging storylines within the framework.

Known for her work in television, which includes episodes of the Netflix series Jessica Jones, Clarkson gives Cassie a unique, emotional personality that sets her apart from the show’s titular character. Even with her amazing skills, Cassie struggles with depression and her natural inability to fit in with society’s expectations of her behavior. One particularly memorable scene takes place at a baby shower, where Cassie accidentally brings up her late mother, which causes discomfort for everyone there, including Mary Parker, who is the future Spider-Man’s expectant mother, and Ben, his prospective uncle.

There is real suspense in the pivotal scene where Cassie struggles with the realization of her developing and uncontrollably strong precognitive abilities, leading up to her necessary intervention to stop a vicious attack that targets three teenage girls on a train that is leaving Grand Central Terminal. Tahar Rahim plays wealthy and obsessed Ezekiel Sims, who has similar precognition powers and predicts that these same teenagers will kill him when they get older. When he shares the terrible prophecy with a new girlfriend in a recent press preview, people laugh unintentionally.

Collaboration

An important turning point in the story is Constance’s terrible death in the Amazon jungle, which was planned by her cunning benefactor, Ezekiel. But before she passes away from her wounds, Constance is given the incredible talents of the local elusive spiders, which she then passes on to her fetus. Although Madame Web appears to be a superhero film, a deeper look reveals that its story structure is quite similar to that of traditional Greek mythology: After a near-death experience at thirty, Cassie, an orphan reared in New York City, realizes she has a natural ability to predict the future. Unlike her mythological namesake, Cassie is accepted for her prophetic insights.

Screenwriters Parker, Sazama, and Sharpless collaborated with Clarkson on several critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful fantasy films, including Dracula Untold, Gods of Egypt, The Last Witch Hunter, and Morbius. The weird compilation brilliantly represents the diverse range of entertainment accessible in the realm of film storytelling.

Amidst the chaotic life of constantly being on the go, Cassie reluctantly takes on the responsibility of being a mentor to three very different teenagers: the reserved Julia, the industrious Anya, and the disobedient Mattie. Cassie has an amazing capacity to deliver blasé, deadpan one-liners in Johnson’s portrayal. It makes the audience want the entire film to be about her encounters with these annoying teenagers, and how her frustration grows at their rudeness. Johnson infuses her portrayal of a superhero with a new, grounded quality that resonates with viewers despite the fanciful setting. The synergy between the four actors is still evident despite Sweeney, Merced, and O’Connor being limited to relatively one-dimensional parts—and, to be honest, looking too grown up to play high school kids. Johnson’s presence only serves to strengthen the bond.

Flaws

Living in Manhattan, Ezekiel becomes obsessed with a recurring vision after robbing a spider and gaining an ill-defined set of abilities. Focused only on averting the three young women’s predicted death, Ezekiel sets out on a tenacious quest to stop what he believes to be their act of vengeance. Ezekiel’s evil plans are thwarted by Cassie’s prompt intervention, saving the lives of his intended victims—Julia Cornwall, Anya Corazon, and Mattie Franklin—young people who have the potential to become Spider-Women, a possibility that worries Ezekiel.

Madame Web follows the necessary, although sometimes random, norms of its genre while Cassie progresses in her precognitive skills, alternating between present-day and near-future visions. Interestingly, one of the things that make the character unique is that her talents are cerebral in nature instead of physical, an aspect that the filmmakers don’t seem to understand. Unfortunately, the film never quite comes together in terms of story development, tone coherence, or thematic resonance. It is a flaw that is made worse by a basic lack of clarity about the use of a protagonist whose resourcefulness is her main way out of difficult situations.

Clarkson, whose wide-ranging television credits include noteworthy roles in the Marvel series Jessica Jones, skillfully keeps the film moving at a fast pace, using rapid transitions and smooth camera motions to keep things moving forward. By using devices like juxtaposing the sound of one car door slamming and another suddenly opening somewhere else, Clarkson gives the story a real sense of urgency and suspense. In addition, the scenes that show Cassie’s developing abilities have a strange and mysterious quality that makes the viewer feel amazed and intrigued.

Gender Norm Deviation and Realism

Given the abundance of superheroes with arachnid themes that were unveiled in Sony’s most recent Spider-Verse flicks, the choice to further develop the storyline simply makes matters more confusing. Four writers, including Clarkson, collaborated on the screenplay, which opens with intriguing hints about the potential formation of a vigilante trio in the future and Cassie’s changing role in the intricate network of interwoven stories. But along with the story development, Cassie is also given surrogate mother duties after she saves the lives of three teenagers played by Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor, and Sydney Sweeney. These three endearing but stereotypically depicted characters are known for their revealing midriffs, absentee parents, and apparent natural abilities.

Comic-book adaptations are often conservative, so it’s hardly surprising that Cassie’s tiny deviance from gender norms is quickly overshadowed. However, Cassie’s protective nature is given a level of genuine realism by Johnson, which makes the part of her considerably more bearable. Though the teenage characters provide good performances, they eventually fall prey to predictable clichés, which is similar to the one-dimensional character of the antagonist of the film, Ezekiel, whose presence gets annoying, partly because of a miscast performance by Rahim. While the scenes where the characters drive ambulances demonstrate a certain level of skill, taking advantage of realistic elements, the incorporation of visual effects in the scenes where the characters interact with Ezekiel—a.k.a. “ceiling guy”—appear ludicrously unconvincing. Specifically, Rahim’s portrayal of Ezekiel’s outfit stands out as a source of humiliation. It is further compounded by the dissonance between his facial emotions and the conversation, which suggests possible production issues.

Sony’s sustained success with the Spider-Man series undoubtedly encourages the character’s ongoing use for new storylines, as evidenced by their calculated 1999 purchase of the film rights from Marvel. It is hardly surprising that Madame Web was released following the highly regarded and inventive Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse animated film. It highlights the corporate culture’s propensity to thoroughly investigate every potential avenue for profit, even if it means the possibility of failure in the end. A fascinating element of the misfire is Johnson’s performance, which subtly challenges the widely held belief that the star power of a cast always pales in comparison to the intellectual property of superhero franchises—a belief that has been reinforced by previous iterations starring actors such as Tobey Maguire. Even if the film had flaws, Johnson surpasses them well before the credits roll, which is evidence of her extraordinary talent and capacity to improve mediocre material.

By contrast, both Johnson and Sweeney give their characters a charming irreverence that, when called for, verges on camp. Subtle hints that occur as stray story strands throughout the picture reveal that Madame Web had higher ambitions for ambition and eccentricity than she ultimately realized. It is possible to imagine a different version in which the lead character had romantic feelings for her fellow paramedic—and future uncle of a certain web-slinging hero—Ben, played by Adam Scott. It would have been a story decision that might have strengthened her relationship with that character.

Throughout the entire film, Cassie is mostly tasked with overseeing the three young women, rather than taking on a more prominent role in the story. Overt allusions to the consumer culture that was popular in 2003 accompany it, such as nostalgic depictions of old Pepsi advertisements, a vintage Calvin Klein commercial, and a choreographed dance routine set to Britney Spears’ hit song Toxic. Finally, Madame Web ends with a general impression that’s somewhat like a combination of a long soda commercial and a teaser trailer for potential future offshoot projects. Even if Cassie says, “Whatever the future holds, we’ll be ready,” the future of the specific franchise is visible to even the uninformed viewer, indicating that it is about to end—a prediction that goes beyond elitism and represents a realistic expectation for a better standard of storytelling.

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