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Review: ‘Madame Web’ is actually a good movie. Yes, really.

Dakota+Johnson+as+Cassandra+Webb+in+Madame+Web.+
(Beth Dubber/Columbia Pictures/TNS)
Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb in “Madame Web.”

I’m not gonna lie: while I was heading to the theater, I was concerned going into “Madame Web.” The majority of X, formerly known as Twitter, users seemed to be against what they saw as meager storylines and weak writing, characters, and performances, especially compared to other Sony/Marvel superhero movies, so I was hesitant. I was expecting “Madame Web” to be a lot worse than it was, but a few good performances and strong found family themes elevate “Madame Web” above some lesser Sony/Marvel superhero movies.

Columbia Pictures’ “Madame Web” was released in theaters on Feb. 14 and follows Cassandra Webb (played by Dakota Johnson), a paramedic in New York City. Webb finds herself having to protect three teenagers from Ezekiel Sims, a murderous adversary with superhuman powers who is hunting them.

“Madame Web” is set in 2003 and sort of pays homage to the conventions of the comic book movies of that era. The muted color palette and minimalistic special effects are all designed to remind viewers of movies like 2002’s “Spider-Man” or 2003’s “Daredevil.”

Also, like many of those movies, Webb is depicted as aloof and antisocial, with her friend having to drag her to social gatherings. Occasionally, with these characters it doesn’t feel realistic, but Johnson really sells it which makes it all the better when she finally finds her chosen family.

The other star of “Madame Web” is Adam Scott. I’ll admit that Scott and his glorious deadpan was half of the reason why I actually watched the movie in the first place, and he absolutely killed it as Ben Parker, a name most Spider-Man fans will recognize.

That’s the other thing about Sony’s recent Spider-Man Universe — it doesn’t have Spider-Man, but it gets really close. Sony is trying to convince people that its movies are in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but they’re not. It is this confusion that is driving audiences away from its movies after films like “Morbius,” which was both a critical and commercial failure. It’s a shame too, because with better marketing more people might be able to actually enjoy this movie.

I mentioned that Adam Scott was half the reason I wanted to watch “Madame Web,” the other half was because of Isabela Merced. Merced, known for her starring role as Dora the Explorer in 2019’s “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” brings layers to the role of Anya Corazon, who was my favorite of the three girls. The A-plus-student Corazon was one of my favorite characters in the 2017 “Spider-Man” animated series. Still, Merced portrays her as more than just an intellectual here, which I appreciated.

Sydney Sweeney and Celeste O’Connor were okay as Julia Cornwall and Mattie Franklin, but the script doesn’t give them much to do other than be a goody-two-shoes and a rebel, respectively.

The writing for “Madame Web” is kind of basic. The hero gets powers that she can’t control, finds the other main characters and must come into her power to save them – it’s all been done before. I am willing to forgive it, though, because of the ending.

I’m a sucker for the found family trope. It’s one of my favorites and “Madame Web” is a great example of it. Webb is initially reluctant to save the girls, but after learning that their real families have abandoned or left them, she takes it upon herself to protect them. By the end, Webb accepts Corazon, Cornwall and Franklin as her chosen family.

The villain in “Madame Web” is also bland. Sims sees a vision of Corazon, Cornwall and Franklin killing him, which is fine, but what I don’t get is why he doesn’t just try to talk to them first, instead of going right to hunting them.

I also thought the dialogue mixing for him was off. Whenever he spoke in voiceover, it sounded much deeper than his actual voice.

There was a lot of good humor in “Madame Web.” Johnson and Scott have a good rapport as Webb and Parker, with Scott stealing the spotlight in every scene he is in. The girls also have good chemistry.

The music was surprisingly good. I appreciated the use of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” as a plot device, and Tiffany’s cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” was also appropriate for the scene, because they were, in fact, alone.

Unlike most of X, I actually enjoyed “Madame Web.” If you ignore what people on the Internet say, maybe you will too.

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