Madame Web
Theatrical release poster
Directed byS. J. Clarkson
Screenplay by
Story by
  • Kerem Sanga
  • Matt Sazama
  • Burk Sharpless
Based onMarvel Comics
Produced byLorenzo di Bonaventura
Starring
CinematographyMauro Fiore
Edited byLeigh Folsom Boyd
Music byJohan Söderqvist
Production
companies
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release dates
Running time
116 minutes[3]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$80 million[4][5][6]
Box office$96.9 million[7][8]

Madame Web is a 2024 American superhero film featuring the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Produced by Columbia Pictures and Di Bonaventura Pictures in association with Marvel Entertainment and TSG Entertainment, and distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, it is the fourth film in Sony's Spider-Man Universe (SSU). The film was directed by S. J. Clarkson from a screenplay she co-wrote with Claire Parker and the writing team of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. It stars Dakota Johnson in the title role, alongside Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O'Connor, Tahar Rahim, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts, and Adam Scott. The film depicts the titular character's origin story and involves Cassie Webb (Johnson) confronting her past while trying to save three young women (played by Sweeney, Merced, and O'Connor) and their futures from Ezekiel Sims (Rahim), who wants to kill the trio before they turn into Spider-Women characters as adults and kill him.

Sony began development on a Madame Web film for its shared universe by September 2019, with Sazama and Sharpless hired to write the script. Clarkson joined as director in May 2020, making the film her feature film directorial debut, while Johnson was cast in early 2022. This was followed by additional castings in the following months, particularly for the three Spider-Women. The creatives took a standalone grounded and gritty approach with the film and made it a suspense thriller. Filming began in mid-July 2022 and wrapped before the end of the year, occurring throughout Massachusetts, including Boston, and in New York City and Mexico. Clarkson and Parker's involvement as writers was revealed in November 2023. Johan Söderqvist, a frequent collaborator of Clarkson, composed the film's score.

Madame Web premiered at the Regency Village Theatre in Westwood, Los Angeles on February 12, 2024, and was released in the United States on February 14. The film was panned by critics and has grossed over $96 million worldwide against a production budget of $80 million.

Plot

In 1973 in the jungles of Peru, a research team led by Ezekiel Sims and his pregnant colleague Constance Webb discovers an unidentified species of spider with rare healing properties. Ezekiel betrays the team and claims the spider for himself before leaving Constance for dead. An Indigenous tribe attempts to save Constance, but she dies shortly after giving birth to Cassandra. In 2003, Cassandra, going by "Cassie", works as a paramedic in New York City alongside her co-workers Ben Parker and O'Neil. During a dangerous call, Cassie falls into the water and has a near-death experience. Ben revives her but she begins to experience visions. Initially, she dismisses them as déjà vu, but after failing to prevent O'Neil's death, Cassie realizes that she can see into the future.

Ezekiel, who has limited precognition power and enhanced physical abilities, collects information on three young women: Julia Cornwall, Anya Corazon, and Mattie Franklin. His visions lead him to believe that they are destined to kill him. Cassie is also drawn to the same women and intervenes to stop Ezekiel from ambushing them at Grand Central Terminal. She steals a taxi and takes Julia, Anya, and Mattie out of the city to hide them in a nearby forest. Cassie returns to her apartment and finds Constance's notes, which reveal Ezekiel's identity and the true nature of his powers. Ignoring Cassie's instructions, the girls go to a diner where Ezekiel finds them. After briefly incapacitating Ezekiel by ramming him with the car, Cassie takes the girls back to Queens and they take refuge in Ben's house.

Cassie flies to Peru and tracks down the tribal chief who saved her mother. The chief puts Cassie through a ritual that separates her soul from her body. She experiences a plane of higher consciousness where all living things are connected and where every possible future can be seen. She learns that Constance sought the spider to save her from a fatal hereditary disease. Ben's pregnant sister-in-law Mary goes into labor earlier than expected and he takes her to the hospital, along with the girls, who are seen on camera when in the car. Ezekiel intercepts them again, but Cassie rescues the girls in an ambulance and distracts Ezekiel so Ben and Mary can escape. The group lures Ezekiel to a condemned firework factory and sets up traps to disorient him while Cassie calls for a medical evacuation helicopter to fly to their location. Ezekiel destroys the helicopter and separates the girls, then taunts Cassie with Constance's death.

Cassie uses her powers to guide the girls to safety. She sets off the final trap, which fatally crushes Ezekiel. An ignited firework strikes Cassie in the face, blinding her. Cassie is taken to the hospital just as Mary gives birth to her son.[a] Cassie wakes up to discover that she is now blind and paraplegic due to her injuries. However, her clairvoyance enables her to see fully into the future. Cassie assures the girls that she will mentor them in their future roles when the time comes.

Cast

Dakota Johnson, star of Madame Web

Additionally, Jill Hennessy appears as an NSA agent seduced by Sims, Josh Drennen plays Julia's father, while Yuma Feldman plays her half-brother, and Kathy-Ann Hart portrays O'Neil's wife, Susan.[25][26] The birth of Peter Parker is depicted in the film with an uncredited infant actor portraying the character.[9]

Production

Development

S. J. Clarkson made her feature film directorial debut with Madame Web

After their work on the Marvel Comics-based film Morbius (2022), part of Sony's Spider-Man Universe (SSU), Sony Pictures hired Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless in September 2019 to write a script centered around the Marvel character Madame Web.[27] Sony's executive vice president Palak Patel was overseeing the project.[28] Kerem Sanga had previously written a draft for the film.[29] In May 2020, S. J. Clarkson was hired to develop and direct Sony's first female-centric Marvel film, which was reported to be Madame Web.[30][31] The studio was looking to attach a prominent actress such as Charlize Theron or Amy Adams to the project, before hiring a new writer to further develop the film with her in mind.[30] After meeting with several "A-listers" for the title role, Sony narrowed their shortlist during December 2021 and January 2022. Dakota Johnson became the frontrunner by the end of 2021, and was in talks to star as Madame Web by early February. Clarkson was confirmed to be directing Madame Web at that time.[29]

In March 2022, Sydney Sweeney was cast in the film alongside Johnson.[32] Justin Kroll of Deadline Hollywood described the project as being "Sony's version of Doctor Strange" due to Madame Web's comic book abilities, though he noted that the film could be departing from the source material since the comics version of Madame Web is an elderly woman, named Cassandra Webb, connected to a life-support system that looks like a spider web. Kroll noted because of this that the film reportedly could "turn into something else".[29] Grant Hermanns of Screen Rant noted speculation on whether Johnson was playing Cassandra Webb or the younger Julia Carpenter, who was the second character in the comics to be known as Madame Web.[33] A month later, Sony gave Madame Web a release date of July 7, 2023, and confirmed Johnson and Sweeney would star in the film.[34] Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who produced the film for Sony through his production company Di Bonaventura Pictures,[10][1] described the film as a thriller and called the titular character's clairvoyance a "tricky skill set" that was not likely to be used for an action film. He said the studio chose to keep details on the film secretive given the character was not well known to general audiences.[35] Sweeney said the film was different from audiences's expectations of superhero films.[36]

Pre-production

In May 2022, Sony Pictures CEO and chairman Tom Rothman stated that filming would begin "in the spring",[37] and Celeste O'Connor was cast in the film, which Deadline Hollywood described as an origin story for the titular character.[12] Sony described the film as a "standalone origin story" and a "suspense-driven thriller" that diverged from the typical superhero film genre,[38] while Di Bonaventura said it would present a fresh take on the character and her origin.[39] Clarkson sought to incorporate a female-led and grounded and gritty tone similar to her work on the Marvel Television series Jessica Jones (2015–2019), and said she was given creative freedom in making the film.[11][15] Clarkson described the center of the story revolving around Cassie's mother. The film was set in 2003 since the initial scripts, with Clarkson choosing to provide a "timeless" quality to the film by including music from the 1990s and on "the edge of 2003" and featuring vintage clothing. She opted to avoid a post-credits sequence as she felt she "said everything we needed to say".[40] The script had undergone substantial changes throughout production.[41] Johnson felt it was important to depict Cassie in a grounded and human reality that audiences could relate to, compared to other superhero films.[11]

In June 2022, Isabela Merced, Tahar Rahim, and Emma Roberts also joined the cast.[42][43][44] Sabina Graves of Gizmodo opined that the other actresses could be portraying "more recognizable" characters such as Jessica Drew / Spider-Woman and Gwen Stacy in a "reimagining" of the Spider-Verse comic.[45] By then, filming was set to begin in mid-July 2022.[46] Sweeney said she was "about to" start filming,[47] and she completed an athletic assessment test and read comics featuring her character Julia Carpenter to prepare for the role,[36] while Johnson was training ahead of starting filming in July.[48] Mike Epps joined the cast that month.[49]

Filming

The main cast members (left to right) Isabela Merced as Anya Corazon, Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb / Madame Web, Sydney Sweeney as Julia Cornwall, and Celeste O'Connor as Mattie Franklin during filming in New York

Principal photography began on July 11, 2022,[50][51] in the Financial District of Boston through July 14, with scenes modeling 2000s New York City,[51] including Chinatown, Manhattan.[52] Filming occurred using the working title Claire,[46] with Mauro Fiore serving as cinematographer, after previously doing so for Sony's Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021).[1][53] Shortly after filming started, Adam Scott joined the cast,[54] and the film's release date was delayed to October 6, 2023.[55] In late July, filming occurred in Allston at Kelton Street.[52] Zosia Mamet was cast in August.[56] Filming that month occurred in Chelsea, Massachusetts,[52] while construction of a set in Andover, Massachusetts had also begun to stand-in for the 4-Star Diner, a comics location,[52][57] and took place at baseball fields in West Andover.[57] The crew often filmed multiple versions of the same scenes with slightly altered outcomes dependent on Cassie's visions, with Johnson occasionally conferring with Clarkson to deduce which scenes were real and which were set in Cassie's head.[11] As a result, filming futuristic scene had significantly increased the production workload.[41] Clairvoyance scenes required careful planning from Clarkson, citing them as the most challenging in her career; she had prepared multiple call sheets and notes when filming. They were often filmed in camera, including the creation of the diopter effect. Scenes filmed with Johnson had to occasionally be done separately as she could not see what was occurring in the direction.[40]

Filming occurred in Worcester, Massachusetts for precision driving and exterior street shots in mid-September 2022 to last for three days, on various street locations,[58][59] using the working titles Claire and Peru.[58] Johnson filmed a day of stunt driving.[11] At that time, the release was further delayed to February 16, 2024.[60] Filming was also set to take place in other areas in the South Shore of Massachusetts, including a former hangar of the Naval Air Station South Weymouth.[46] Filming in Massachusetts, particularly for the Boston unit, lasted for three months until September 2022.[46][61] The production then moved to New York City by October 11,[62] occurring at Grand Central Terminal,[63] and Sweeney completed filming her scenes by October 18 after a three and a half-month shoot;[64] Sweeney worked on the film in Boston for five months.[36] Filming was completed before the end of the year,[65] and was confirmed to have wrapped in mid-January 2023.[66] Filming also took place in Mexico.[46] Sony reported the film had a final production budget of $80 million, though The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline Hollywood both reported that sources indicated the cost of the film could have been "in the low $100 million range."[5][6]

Post-production

In March 2023, Sweeney's role was reported to be Julia Carpenter,[67] which was confirmed in May along with Johnson as Cassandra Webb.[16] Sweeney's character was ultimately named Julia Cornwall.[11] In July, the film's release was moved forward to February 14, 2024.[68] The first trailer, released in November 2023, revealed that Merced, O'Connor, and Rahim were respectively portraying Anya Corazon, Mattie Franklin,[17] and Ezekiel Sims.[10][19] The characters of Carpenter, Corazon, and Franklin were noted for appearing in their Spider-Woman costumes from the comics.[17] The premise released at that time started with the line "Meanwhile, in another universe...", which had been used in the trailer for Sony's animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) when it was attached to the end of their SSU film Venom (2018);[38][69][70] Clarkson later said the Madame Web character existed in a standalone world.[11] The film's final writing credits were also revealed: Sazama and Sharpless received credit for the screenplay alongside the writing team of Claire Parker and Clarkson, while credit for the story was attributed to Sanga, Sazama, and Sharpless, with off-screen additional literary credit given to Chris Bremner.[1][71][72] Spider-Man comic book writer and Sims's co-creator J. Michael Straczynski said while Sims was the same character he created, he felt the film's interpretation combined elements from Morlun, another Spider-Man villain he co-created in the comics who is associated with the multiverse and the Spider-Verse. Emily Garbutt at Total Film noted that the film's version of Sims could see into the future, compared to the comics's version who is a rich businessman who gained similar powers as the character Spider-Man through a ritual, and noted that Morlun could drain the life force of others through physical contact.[73][74]

In January 2024, journalist Jeff Sneider reported that Sony had performed reshoots for Madame Web to remove references to the originally planned 1990s setting of the film, which was intended to have Andrew Garfield's version of Peter Parker / Spider-Man from The Amazing Spider-Man films exist within the film's continuity but not appear, before the studio decided to instead have this be Tom Holland's version of the character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Spider-Man films. This resulted in the timeline needing to be adjusted to align with that character's age,[75] with the film ultimately set in 2003.[11][75] There was also potential for the different Spider-Women characters to appear in costume for one scene, and Sneider believed younger versions of the characters Mary and Ben Parker were involved.[75] Clarkson confirmed in early February that both characters would appear, with them portrayed by Roberts and Scott.[76][20] Leigh Folsom Boyd edited the film after previously doing so on No Way Home.[1][53] Visual effects were provided by Digital Domain, beloFX, One of Us, and Outpost VFX.[77]

Music

Main article: Madame Web (soundtrack)

Johan Söderqvist was revealed to be composing the film's score, after previously working with Clarkson on Anatomy of a Scandal (2022), in November 2023.[78]

Marketing

The first trailer for the film was released on November 15, 2023. While commenting about the trailer, McKinley Franklin at Variety described Madame Web as a suspense thriller.[79] Charles Pulliam-Moore at The Verge felt the trailer did not give an indication as to what universe the film was set in or why the film's antagonist Ezekiel Sims wore a suit similar to that of the character Spider-Man, and found it weird to see another Marvel-based project from Sony centered on the Spider-Man lore from the comics without featuring the Spider-Man character.[80] Zoe Guy, writing for Vulture, said the trailer provided a lot of details and highlighted its use of "Bury a Friend" by Billie Eilish.[81] Joshua Rivera of Polygon criticized the trailer for focusing its three-minute runtime on explaining Cassandra Webb's powers and appearing as a "run-of-the-mill 2000s thriller" instead of showcasing the "wildly interesting and truly strange" Spider-Man-related characters.[82] Conversely, Graham Day at The Escapist was excited for the film by the trailer and highlighted Sony's unconventional and eccentric style, which he noted had resulted in commentators making various memes surrounding the film. Day compared such moments to similar scenes and responses to Sony's Venom (2018) and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, feeling the stunt work in the trailer was fascinating and similar to that of The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), which he believed was under appreciated.[83] One line of dialogue from the trailer delivered by Johnson, stating: "[he] was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died", received particular mockery from commentators, with several memes incorporating the line into other film quotes.[84][85] The line was not included in the final cut of the film.[86] Ahead of the film's release, Sony pivoted television spots to focus on the film's thriller tone rather than connections to the Spider-Man franchise.[4] The studio spent $60 million promoting the film, with 75% of the campaign spent on social media advertisements.[5]

Release

Theatrical

Madame Web premiered at the Regency Village Theatre in Westwood, Los Angeles on February 12, 2024,[87] and was theatrically released in the United States on February 14,[68] in IMAX, 4DX, and ScreenX.[60][88] It was previously scheduled for July 7, 2023,[34] October 6, 2023,[55] and then on February 16, 2024.[60] This was the first film to use the new Columbia Pictures logo commemorating the studio's 100th anniversary, with a computer-generated animated version of the "Lady with the Torch" iconography.[89]

Home media

In December 2022, Sony signed a long-term deal with the Canadian-based streaming service Crave for their films starting in April 2023, following the films' theatrical and home media windows. Crave signed for the "pay-one" window streaming rights, which included Madame Web.[90] Madame Web is scheduled to be released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on digital download, Ultra HD Blu-ray, and Blu-ray on April 30, 2024, with SteelBook packaging featuring the suit worn by Johnson's Webb in the film.[91]

Reception

Box office

As of March 12, 2024, Madame Web has grossed $42.9 million in the United States and Canada, and $54 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $96.9 million.[7][8]

In the United States and Canada, Madame Web was released alongside Bob Marley: One Love, and was projected to gross $20–25 million from 4,013 theaters over its six-day opening timeframe.[4] In the days leading up to its release, theater chains noted a large amount of pre-ordered tickets were cancelled following the reveal of the poor critical reviews.[6] The film made $6 million on its first day, $2.2 million on its second, and $4.3 million on its third.[92][93] It went on to have a six-day opening of $25.8 million (including $15.1 million in its traditional weekend), finishing second behind One Love; IMAX screenings accounted for $3.1 million of the total.[5] In its second weekend the film made $6 million (a drop of 61%), finishing in fourth.[94]

Critical response

Madame Web received negative reviews from critics,[95][96] who panned it as an "embarrassing mess"[97][98][99] and the "worst comic book movie" yet.[100] On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 12% of 230 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 3.4/10. The website's consensus reads: "Madame Web's earnest approach to the title character's origin story has a certain appeal, but its predictable plot and uneven execution make for a forgettable superhero adventure."[101] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 26 out of 100, based on 51 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable" reviews.[102] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it a 54% overall positive score.[92][5]

Lovia Gyarkye of The Hollywood Reporter said the film "doesn't meet even the lowest expectations", and wrote, "It is an airless and stilted endeavor driven by a mechanical screenplay ... The film operates on a need-to-know basis, forcing people to explain themselves through inelegantly breathless exposition."[1] Peter Travers of ABC News named the film the worst in Sony's Spider-Man Universe, calling it "God-awful" and "second to none in the dark art of boring you breathless".[103] The New York Times's Manohla Dargis wrote that "the story is absurd, the dialogue snort-out-loud risible, the fights uninspired", though she noted Johnson appeared "wholly detached from the nonsense swirling around her".[104] The Guardian's Benjamin Lee awarded the film one star out of five and said it was "as dumb and schlocky as the worst of the genre, with lousy network TV effects, uninvolving action and unfunny and inelegant dialogue".[105] Kevin Maher of The Times also gave it 1/5 stars, writing: "In its sheer mind-boggling awfulness, it represents the death of the superhero genre, the burning of the superhero genre to the ground and then the returning in the middle of the night to piss on the superhero genre's ashes."[106] The Daily Telegraph's Robbie Collin also gave it 1/5 stars, calling it "a sort of two-hour explosion in a boringness factory, in which the forces of dullness and stupidity combine in new and infinitely perturbing ways".[107]

In a negative review for Variety, Peter Debruge wrote, "Cassie spends most of the film babysitting the three young ladies, surrounded by less-than-sly nods to year-2003 consumerism: vintage Pepsi products, a classic Calvin Klein ad, plus a table dance to Britney Spears' 'Toxic.' In the end, Madame Web feels like a cross between an extended soda commercial and a teaser trailer for still more spinoffs. 'Whatever the future holds, we'll be ready,' Cassie promises. But you don't have to be a soothsayer to see this particular franchise is DOA — or a snob to expect better."[2] Sam Adams of Slate wrote: "The movie is marginally competent at its best, and at its worst, it's an incoherent mishmash populated by slumming movie stars who make little effort to disguise the dawning realization that they've made a terrible mistake. It's a travesty, a disaster, a blight on the history of superheroes and cinema itself. I enjoyed the hell out of it."[108] The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan gave it 2.5/4 stars, saying that it "is no blockbuster, but in its own quiet way, it manages to break down a few barriers",[109] while Charles Pulliam-Moore of The Verge found the film "surprisingly committed to transporting you back to 2003 — a golden age for comic book movies that were aggressively mid or worse".[110]

Some critics compared the film to Morbius, as both films became satirical "meme fodder" and received media attention despite low critic ratings,[111] while Pamela McClintock and James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter and Callie Holtermann of The New York Times noted that the film had been regarded by some commentators as a "future cult classic" and a "camp classic".[6][112][113] Particular mockery was directed toward the dialogue from the film's trailer that was not included in the final film,[114] with John Mulaney referencing the line while presenting at the 96th Academy Awards shortly after the film's release,[115][113] while Sweeney mocked the film's performance in her opening monologue for the 49th season of Saturday Night Live (2024).[116] Filmmaker Mike Flanagan referenced Nicole Kidman's promotional monologue for AMC Theatres (which received similar media attention) in his review of the film and used tags criticizing elements of the film such as the automated dialogue replacement (ADR).[117]

Future

Sony had reportedly planned for Madame Web to be the first film in a potential new franchise, but following the film's poor critical reception and low opening weekend box office, these plans were reportedly abandoned. The Hollywood Reporter stated that while Sony was willing to take risks with their superhero films–with Madame Web avoiding the typical superhero genre tropes–the studio also wanted "home runs", with executives at Sony said to be in a "gloomy" mood after the film's poor performance and reception. The report noted that the superhero genre had been in a transition period and that the future reception of their franchise could change dependent on if the next SSU film that was then scheduled for release, Kraven the Hunter, were successful.[6] Johnson was not surprised by the film's reception, and she felt it was unlikely that she would make another superhero film after Madame Web, believing that she did not "make sense in that world".[118]

Notes

  1. ^ Identified off-screen as Peter Parker[9]

References

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