‘Madame Web’ movie review: No surprises from this mildly engaging origin story

Audiences have witnessed the steady expansion of Sony’s Spider-Man Universe with varying responses to films including the likes of “Venom” and the less-celebrated “Morbius”. The latest addition to the SSU tapestry is “Madame Web”, a journey that neither pushes the viewer to the edge of frustration nor captivates with overwhelming spectacle. The story arc, lasting shy of two hours, introduces us to the origin of Cassie Webb, portrayed by Dakota Johnson, diverging noticeably from her comic book counterpart.

In the realm of the SSU, Madame Web steps away from the established elderly, life-supported seer, instead presenting Cassie as a woman in her 30s coming to grips with newfound psychic abilities. We begin in the 1970s, within the depths of the Peruvian Amazon. Kerry Bishé features as Constance, Cassie’s mother, gravid and in the pursuit of a fabled spider believed to possess miraculous curative properties. In this quest, she is confronted with both discovery and deceit at the hands of explorer Ezekiel Sims, played by Tahar Rahim.

Fast forward 33 years, and we encounter Cassie working as a paramedic in New York alongside Ben Parker, characterized by Adam Scott. A string of socially awkward encounters, one occurring at a baby shower for Ben’s sister-in-law Mary (Emma Roberts), culminates in a transformative accident for Cassie. Awakening psychic powers that grant her visions of the future leave her grappling with the edges of reality.

While Cassie wrestles with her nascent abilities, feeling sensations of déjà vu and its puzzling siblings, Ezekiel ensconces himself in a digital retreat, consumed by a fixation on his own mortality. Perceiving three young women—Julia (Sydney Sweeney), Anya (Isabela Merced), and Mattie (Celeste O’Connor)—as harbingers of his doom, he compels his solitary tech aide, Amaria (Zosia Mamet), to hunt them down.

Compelled by her psychic foresight, Cassie unites with the imperiled trio, positioning herself as their reluctant guardian. Their narrative propels them into a relentless evasion of Ezekiel’s machinations, interspersed with a hasty expedition to Peru. There, Cassie communes with Santiago (José María Yazpik) of the enigmatic Las Arañas tribe to unravel the threads of her ancestry and purpose.

“Madame Web” does not skimp on action, even though the sequences are merely serviceable. The film assembles a competent female cast, and it’s refreshing to see Adam Scott cast as a younger Uncle Ben. Equally, Rahim delivers an enthusiastic portrayal of villainy. The incorporation of Peter Parker’s birth into the film’s lore might either charm or chagrin viewers.

However, this cinematic piece doesn’t strive for the intensity often characteristic of contemporary superhero epics; “Madame Web” calmly eschews the increasingly common mid- or end-credit scenes along with avoiding a bloated runtime. Nonetheless, there is a transitory quality to the experience—leaving the theatre, the film is inclined to slip quietly away from one’s thoughts, championing the subsequent convenience of a ride on public transportation over lasting impact.

Madame Web continues to spin its humble, yet mildly engaging web across theater screens. As the dust settles, whether the film will be held aloft as a memorable strand in the greater SSU remains a question only time—and perhaps the fate of future sequels—will tell.

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