Opinion: The widely panned ‘Madame Web’ is actually pretty decent — if watched with no expectations

This piece is part of MS Speaks, a segment in which MS News reporters share their honest views on current affairs and trending topics.

‘Madame Web’ proves to be an entertaining watch if watched with an open mind

‘Madame Web’ – the latest addition to the Sony Spider-Man Universe – has received harsh criticism from film critics and social media users all over the world since it made its debut.

The film premiered in Singapore on Thursday (15 Feb). It stars Dakota Johnson as Cassandra “Cassie” Webb, a paramedic in her 30s who discovers her innate psychic abilities after a near-death experience while on shift.

The movie also features ‘Euphoria’ actress Sydney Sweeney, alongside Celeste O’Connor and Isabela Merced as teenage girls who would eventually grow up to be Spider Women.

Admittedly, this origin story for the titular Marvel Comics character has its flaws, but the online hate comes off as unfair when it is really not so bad after all. In fact, it can be a fun experience when there are no expectations of what the film should or should not be.

‘Madame Web’ premiered to harsh criticism from critics & social media users

According to review aggregator Rotten Tomato, critics rated ‘Madame Web’ an abysmal 13%. Similarly, social media was abound with users who touted it as “the worst movie ever” since the film hit the big screens.

@jstoobs Madame Web is maybe the worst movie of all time #film #movies ♬ original sound – stoobs

Many reviewers criticised the writing and coherence of ‘Madame Web’. Notably, The New York Times said that “the people behind it don’t know what to do with a woman who thinks her way out of trouble”, contrary to the typical superhero movie with multiple fight scenes.

The Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) – which refers to the re-recording of audio and dialogue in post-production – was also among the biggest flaws of the film.

Individuals who have seen the movie took to TikTok to express how distracting they found many of the villain Ezekiel Sims’ (Tahar Rahim) dialogue, as the audio did not sync up with the movements of his mouth on-screen.

‘Hero’s Journey’ progression makes movie relatable to audiences with or without comic book knowledge

However, some may find their experience incongruent with the negative sentiments online, as ‘Madame Web’ proves to be, in fact, a decent movie about one woman’s journey to finding her hidden potential.

Madame Web

Dakota Johnson as Cassie Webb. Source: IMDb

Without spoiling too much of the plot, Cassie found herself taking three girls – Julia Cornwall (Sweeney), Anya Corazon (Merced), and Mattie Franklin (O’Connor) – into her protection after having visions of Ezekiel killing them.

Along the way, Cassie discovers that Ezekiel has ties to her late mother, a researcher who was studying spiders in the Peruvian Amazon and died giving birth to her.

To learn more about the connection and her new powers, the protagonist ventures to Peru where a member of a native tribe shares their secrets.

Essentially, the movie re-designs the character from the comics to fit the context of today’s Sony Spider-Man films in the form of the “Hero’s Journey” trope in storytelling.

Writers of the film took creative liberties to flesh out the Marvel side-character’s backstory & humanise her

Fleshing out her character in the movie and giving her traits such as having a job as a paramedic humanises this side-character from the comics. This makes it more relatable to audiences with and without prior knowledge of the comic book lore.

The comics typically portray Madame Web as an elderly clairvoyant mutant on a life support system resembling a spider web.

Source: Marvel

Although not much is known about her history in the comics, the one of the biggest differences between the Cassandra Webb of the comics and the film is her birthplace – which is Salem, Oregon in the former and Peru in the latter.

If the writers of the movie anchor it too much in the complex lore of the comics, it may become an entry barrier to those who are unfamiliar with it.

By taking the approach they did, it becomes more accessible to everyone. The creative liberties the writers took with Cassie’s history also gives seasoned comic book readers something new to ponder.

Dakota Johnson’s strong performance & funny character interactions make up for lack of dimension

That is not to say that the movie is perfect. It becomes quite evident that the supporting characters, specifically the three girls, play too much into stereotypes that overpowers the depth their characters could potentially have.

From left to right: Celeste O’Connor as Mattie Franklin, Isabela Merced as Anya Corazon, and Sydney Sweeney as Julia Cornwall. Source: IMDb

Julia, Anya, and Mattie each come from difficult backgrounds and experiences that should create nuanced personas. But, save for the one scene where they discussed their family situations, they can largely be classified as “The Good Girl”, “The Lone Wolf”, and “The Rich Rebel” for most of the movie.

Ezekiel’s motivations as a villain are relatively vague as well, and it makes viewers wonder why he is going through all that trouble to hunt down the girls.

Tahar Rahim as Ezekiel Sims. Source: Sony Pictures Canada on YouTube

On the contrary, Johnson’s portrayal of the titular character allows viewers to understand the different aspects of Cassie as best as she could with the disproportionate pacing of the film.

A particular scene where Cassie matter-of-factly remarked that her mother died in childbirth at a baby shower stood out as a highlight of her introverted and awkward personality.

Cassie’s interactions with the teen girls also make for good entertainment. The combination of the girl’s wide-eyed tendencies and the deadpan jadedness one might expect from a 30-something-year-old provided some good laughs during more light-hearted scenes.

Audiences should take movie reviews with a pinch of salt & make their own judgements

By going into the film with expectations of how it should or should not be means that one is not giving themselves the chance to enjoy it for what it is.

Madame Web

Source: Madame Web on Facebook

Sure, ‘Madame Web’ may not have the best script or character development, but it is an accessible and adequately entertaining show for general audiences.

They should also take the comments of critics and other social media users with a pinch of salt and form their own opinions, instead of going into the show expecting it to be bad.

While ‘Madame Web’ is not a cinematic masterpiece, it is really not as bad as people have made it out to be. Even the ADR is easy to ignore as long as one does not pay the mouth movements too much mind.

One can always wait for the film to hit streaming services if they do not wish to spend money at the cinemas to watch it, but it seems quite unfair – both to themselves and the people who have worked on the show – to completely brush it off.

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Featured image adapted from IMDb.

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