Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Snared in the Spider-verse web

    Just when Oscar season has diverted attention from the ever-accumulating mountain of superhero movies, we get Madame Web. Like other entries in this highly variable genre, Madame Web seems designed to expand the list of characters who, in this instance, spin their way through other movies.
   Dakota Johnson joins Sony's version of the Marvel-verse as Cassandra Webb, the daughter of an arachnologist who, in the movie’s Peruvian prologue, discovers a rare breed of spider and dies during child birth.
    Leaping ahead, the story charts Cassandra's development from a career as a New York City EMT to her belated emergence as Madame Web.
     It doesn't take long for Cassandra -- better know as  Cassie -- to discover that she has the power to see into the future, a capacity depicted in abrupt flashes that hit the screen with the force of pumpkins smashed against walls.
     Plot twists lead Cassie to take charge of three teen-agers (Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O'Connor, and Isabela Merced) who are destined to play roles in the spider-verse's unfolding future.
     Responsible for the death of Cassie's Mom and some awkward early picture exposition, the movie's villain (Tahar Rahim) gains spider powers. He's able to walk on ceilings, for example.
     So where were we? Does it matter?  
     Not really, but for the record, Cassie becomes the girls' protector, forming a familial group dedicated to ... what? ... maybe future movies.
      At least in the early going, director S.J. Clarkson tries to ground the movie in recognizable reality. Cassie and her EMT partner (Adam Scott) deal with big-city perils, but the movie eventually forgets about Scott's Ben Parker, a name that provides a clue about the interconnected spider-verse Clarkson weaves.
     Only box office indifference will end the Marvel onslaught. Meanwhile, lame dialogue, a pervasive lack of wit, and an inability to overcome Marvel fatigue keep this one from going anywhere. 

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