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‘Madame Web’ (Blu-ray review)

Sony

Madame Web is mostly awful but not as bad as y’all say.

Yes it’s confusing– throws too many characters at you too quickly to easily assimilate.

Yes, it has a fairly complex premise that needs a more deliberate pace and visual clarity.

Yes, the frenetically handheld visual style adds confusion on top of confusion and makes everything worse.

Yes, a prep school complete with uniforms, turn-of-the-century architecture, and wrought iron fencing would not likely be facing a major New York avenue shaded by an elevated rail.

Yes, there’s such a thing as too many Pepsi commercials (which I can forgive if they were funny but the movie keeps sneaking them in as if we wouldn’t notice).

No, if I knew three sullen kids were so important I’d sit in the same room as they and watch them, not run off to this library or that South American country trusting them to not move.

And nowhere in the movie or any number of recent horrors have I seen a more terrifying sequence than Dakota Johnson (as veteran paramedic and out-of-her-depth protagonist Cassie Webb) behind the wheels of a moving vehicle. She looks everywhere except the road, reaches back to slams a taxi’s speaking hole shut, conducts extended conversations with her passengers while glaring at them from her front seat. Actors can emote facing forward every bit as well as they can facing back; why act in a way that frightens the audience for your safety?

Director S.J. Clarkson may glide her camera a tad too much in the name of style and cut too often for the sake of clarity but when it comes to narrative and emotional beats she shows some ability. Johnson’s Cassie is fairly well sketched, a social klutz made that way because (presumably) she had no parent to help develop her interaction skills; the three girls (played by Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor respectively) that Cassie has taken under wing have charisma and charm– O’Connor in particular stands out as prospective rebel-in-training– but given the reception and box-office inspired so far they may want to keep this particular title out of their respective resumes.

A few mildly surprising plot twists, a few flashbacks into Cassie’s past, a few action sequences showing Cassie growing into her role as all-around superhero precog (term from the Philip K. Dick short story, Minority Report) and mother hen figure, and O’Connor, Sweeney, and Merced developing rapport with each other and Johnson. It’s actually not bad, a girl-power, lets-pull-together inspirational where you’ve got such low expectations going in you just might feel better-than-expected stepping out.

It might have helped if Clarkson had the visual snap crackle and pop to bring the chase sequences to life (for a well-shot crisply staged-and-edited example involving a prescient quarry, check out Spielberg’s Minority Report).

It might help if bad guy Ezekiel (Tahar Rahim) were given juicier lines and a more compelling motive for stealing the super-spider– some funny repartee between him and Johnson might have helped carry the picture to the finish line– but we got what we got and that’s all we’re gonna get.

Extras include featurettes, deleted scenes, and Easter Eggs.

Is it just my imagination or is Marvel actually putting out better less formulaic work on its way to total collapse?

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