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Pepsi-Cola Presents…The Preposterous 'Madame Web'

"Seriously, don't do dumb things." This quote is a call to action that Cassie Webb (Dakota Johnson) instructs upon three teenage girls (Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O'Connor, and Isabela Merced) as she leaves them stranded in the woods to figure out her next steps. This is after Cassie saved them from certain death aboard a New York City subway circa 2003. Cassie was recently gifted with the power to see the near future, and what she often sees is a spider-like villain, Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), and his vengeful plan to murder the girls before they murder him.

Thus is the premise of "Madame Web," the newest offering from Sony's Spider-Man Universe that never reaches its full potential, nor does it even try. Laced with not-so-subtle references to Peter Parker's Spider-Man (Tom Holland), this movie serves as a prequel to 2017's "Spider-Man: Homecoming" in the worst possible ways. Billed as a suspense thriller within the Spider-Man Universe prior to Spider-Man's arrival, "Madame Web" is a torturous two hours that becomes quite a waste of its supreme talent.

Helmed by veteran television director S.J. Clarkson, "Madame Web" costars a striking number of well-known names that have absolutely nothing to do in this movie, including Adam Scott, Emma Roberts, and Mike Epps. After a freak drowning accident, paramedic and orphan Cassie Webb gains the superpower to see into the future, most likely due to her mother's death during childbirth in the Amazon many years before. Cassie's mom was researching a unique Peruvian spider when fellow explorer Ezekiel Sims turned against her and captured the spider for himself.  

Fast forward to 2003, and Sims is rich, powerful, handsome, and beyond cartoonish. The spider has proven to be a blessing and a curse for the magnate as he's somehow gained superpowers similar to a spider but has nightmares of his eventual murder at the hands of three women in capes. He enlists the help of assistant Amaria (Zosia Mamet) to track down the three women, currently teenagers in 2003, so he can kill them before they gain superpowers to override his advances.

Cassie is the only thing stopping Sims from achieving his killing spree, though she's pretty effective at doing so at the last possible second before any of the girls are harmed. These semi-heroic actions are usually performed by drinking a can of Pepsi, running Sims over with a car (in multiple instances), driving said car through a diner, billboard advertisement, or whatever you can think of. It's unclear how Cassie got her one power, as there wasn't a spider bite, radiation, or the standard ways Marvel superheroes morph during her transformation. Her gravity-defying scene-stealers are laughable at best.

The low-stakes quality of "Madame Web" serves as a jumping-off point for Dakota Johnson to appear bored throughout the film, especially when external characters try to give her advice that seeps into the Spider-Man lore we've heard a thousand times over the decades. Think, "With great power comes great responsibility…" and you'll know where this film is headed. We even get glimpses of Peter Parker's mom pregnant with the future web-slinger, Uncle Ben, in tow. Even those sub-plots feel forced and pandering.

It's apparent that this film sets up future installments that tie into the Spider-Man Universe, but I beg Sony not to go through with them. The eye-rolling dialogue, cliché action sequences, and tedious characters lacking variety or valuation make it challenging to see why we need more from this world. Cassie is an unlikable character who never dons a cape and is never referred to as the titular Madame Web. Sims is a confusingly weak villain who evokes "Final Destination" vibes and is the only character to wear a costume and be barefoot at the same time.

Skip this one. You'll be glad you did.

Ticket Rating: 🎟1/2


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