‘Madame’ a Marvel mess, but it looks pretty

Did some secret market study indicate audiences found the current phase of Marvel movies to be confusing or just plain hard to follow?

That might explain why “Madame Web” — the inauspicious directorial debut of S.J. Clarkson — offers up a sophomoric, overwritten screenplay that constantly re-summarizes the plot and comments on the obvious.

Toss in some inadvertently ludicrous situations and eye-rolling chase scenes and you get a curiously sedate Dakota Johnson starring in 50 shades of nay.

Madame Web began in 1980 as an unusual supporting superhero in Marvel’s Spider-Man comic books. Blind and elderly, she exercised clairvoyant powers while being connected to a life-support system resembling a spiderweb.

Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney) is an unusually compliant teenager in the disappointing Marvel superhero movie “Madame Web.” Courtesy of Sony

Not here. Not yet.

In this stand-alone origin story, Cassandra Webb (Johnson) works as a New York paramedic alongside her bland buddy Ben (Adam Scott). She begins to inexplicably experience violent visions of the immediate near future.

She does not know what we know, having seen how her researcher/explorer mother died in 1973 Peru while looking for a rare spider rumored to possess great healing powers.

Undocumented Illegal immigrant Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced) is one of three teenagers destined to become superheroes in the stand-alone origin tale “Madame Web.” Courtesy of Sony

Her killer, a duplicitous guide (and dull, one-note villain) named Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), uses the spider venom to transform into a wealthy, evil ninja with Spider-Man powers. He vows to find and kill three superhero-costumed females he foresees will assassinate him.

Meanwhile, Cassie spots three familiar-looking teens in the subway: soft-spoken Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney), street savvy Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor) and undocumented illegal immigrant Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced).

In “Madame Web,” Cassie Webb (Dakota Johnson), second from left, becomes a reluctant mentor to three teens: Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced), left, Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney) and Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor). Courtesy of Sony

Here, “Madame Web” starts to go wonky, but not in a Willy way.

Cassie sees Sims kill the girls in a futuristic vision. She quickly — and too easily — persuades them to follow her off the train.

She whisks the remarkably pliable teens to a remote area in the woods and dumps them there for hours without food, water or contact.

When Cassie finally comes to collect the trio, they leave a campfire burning in the woods.


Smokey the Bear would not be impressed by Cassie’s leadership.

Then again, we’re talking about a character who removes the license plates from a stolen taxicab so pursuing police can’t find her.

Yet, she’s driving around in a bright yellow car with its large license number painted on the sides.

Dakota Johnson imbues her character Cassie Webb with tentative commitment in Marvel’s “Madame Web.” Courtesy of Sony

Five writers received credit for this Marvel mess and its collection of braindead bromides such as “No matter what happens, we need to work together!” and “Sometimes you must sacrifice yourself to save someone you love.”

With his constantly roving cameras capturing incredible compositions, Oscar-winning cinematographer (and Palatine High School graduate) Mauro Fiore — assisted by the keen editing of Leigh “Fast & Furious” Folsom — elevates “Madame Web” to a watchable status.

Nonetheless, a lot of effort and $80 million went into creating the most flamboyant product placement ever designed for a soft drink.

Coke it’s not.

• • •

“Madame Web”

1.5 stars

A Columbia Pictures theatrical release. Rated PG-13 for language, violence. 117 minutes

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