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“Madame Web” is a Good Film for Young Teens

Sony’s series of Spider-man adjacent films have mostly focused on anti-heroes. Since Spider-man, the hero, is by corporate necessity absent from these films they need to turn less than heroic characters into the protagonist. 

This doesn’t make those films bad, but it does make them more complicated, and not often the best fit for the teenaged kids that could otherwise most benefit from the superhero narrative of good vs. evil.

In that respect, Madame Web is a welcome reprieve. This is an unabashed superhero origin story. And in many respects, it demonstrates the durability of the genre. 

Madame Webb owes much of its success to the animated Spider-verse films. Those films introduced audiences widely to the idea of multiple spider people, and in a recurring motif from the first film the basic beats that define those various spider people, and the near infinite variations those beats can take.

Madame Webb hits each of those beats while toying with the formula enough to keep it interesting. 

The moral at the center of the film focuses on our ability to influence our futures. After a traumatic incident, Cassie discovers that she has precognition. At first she feels helpless to stop the future predicted in the visions. But when three innocent girls are about to be murdered by the villainous Ezekiel Sims she can’t stand by and is thrust into the role of protector. As the film reaches its climax, both Cassie and the three teenagers she protects learn to step up. And the film seems best suited to teens about their age and a little younger thirteen to sixteen.

Dakota Johnson has the acting chops to anchor the film. She ably handles the expositional relationship building, the determined character develop, and the thriller action scenes. Sydney Sweeney, Isabel Merced, and Celeste O’Connor, who play the three teenagers each portray a character who will one day become Spider-woman in the comics. They never try to do too much, and always deliver when the film requires it. Adam Scott is also a standout as “Ben Parker” who spends much of the film excited to become an uncle. 

The villain, Sims is far and away the film’s weak point. His motivation is confusing. And it appeared at several points as though his dialogue was dubbed. But his simplicity as a villain helped along the film’s theme. There was little question about what the right thing for our protagonists to do was, only whether or not they would do it. 

The film utilizes its range of PG-13 profanity, and the violence is just enough that I probably wouldn’t want my own kids to see the movie until they were teens. In terms of messages about family the film really shines. The film begins with a flashback to Cassie Webb’s mother nine months pregnant and upset about how her child is getting in the way of her work. But much of Cassie’s growth as a character comes from dealing with the damage of that attitude, and learning to embrace her own nourishing side. Each of the three girls are dealing with similar struggles. And Cassie learns the full strength of her powers as she also learns the full truth about her roots. 

I certainly don’t want to overpromise on the film. It’s effects are clunky, and the plot is predictable. But it’s a movie you can let young teeangers watch without having to worry about explaining too much afterward, and that they will dependably get a good takeaway from. And if the parents happen to catch it too, they  will at least have a fun time. Two and a half out of five stars. 

“Madame Web” releases in theaters on February 16th.

About the author

C.D. Cunningham

C.D. Cunningham is the managing editor of Public Square magazine. After graduating from BYU-Idaho, he studied religion at Harvard University Extension. He serves on the board of the Latter-day Saint Publishing and Media Association.
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