Madame Web Proves the Superhero Origin Story Needs to Go Away Forever

Hollywood loves an origin story, but it might finally be time to leave them behind.

Originally Published: 
Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb in Madame Web
Sony Pictures

Kevin Feige was on to something when he chose to steer Marvel away from superhero origin stories. In 2014, the Marvel Studios exec claimed that Doctor Strange would be the last origin story in the franchise’s cinematic universe, and while that hasn’t entirely been the case (see Shang-Chi, Captain Marvel, Moon Knight, or She-Hulk), Marvel’s subversive strategy has served it pretty well. The past decade has seen new heroes and villains introduced in seamless fashion, with each entry of the MCU serving as a back-door pilot, of sorts, for adventures to come.

Sony’s Spider-Man universe is relatively young: it’s only been around for half a decade, but not for lack of trying. The studio has held the rights to the eponymous webhead for the past 25 years, and has tried to get a genuine franchise off the ground at least twice before. Though Sony is now leasing Peter Parker out to Marvel Studios, the studio hasn’t stopped trying to establish a comprehensive web of heroes and villains to set itself apart from the MCU.

That is, of course, until recently. Apart from the deliriously-charming Venom, Sony’s Spidey-less films have felt increasingly devoid of effort. Madame Web might just be the most lethargic of them all — bafflingly, though, it tries harder than ever to reboot the Spider-Verse... and maybe even make way for a new Spider-Man to take over. Spoilers ahead.

Madame Web is desperately seeking a connection with an existing universe — it just doesn’t take the time to establish something sound.

Sony Pictures

Madame Web’s worst sin isn’t its inert dialogue or frantic direction, but its lazy attempts to build a franchise on the bones of such familiar IP. Peter Parker may not be the hero of this story, but he’s never far from anyone’s mind. Madame Web cheekily sets the stage right before the once-and-future Spider-Man is born, and goes out of its way to reintroduce one of the most important figures of his life through Adam Scott’s Ben Parker. There’s no shortage of quips about power and responsibility, especially where Ben — thrilled to be an uncle to his sister-in-law’s unnamed kid — is concerned.

Of course, that’s just one of the very-weird attempts to establish a sense of place. And for what it’s worth, it’s not nearly as half-baked as Madame Web’s approach to the actual heroes of its story. Dakota Johnson is Cassie Webb, a wry, antisocial EMT who suddenly comes into a great deal of precognitive power. After almost drowning, she’s able to see a few seconds or minutes into the future — and she uses that new ability to save a trio of teenaged girls from a mysterious guy with a very familiar skill-set.

Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim) is basically Evil Spider-Man, if you swapped the webswinging out for a less-useful brand of clairvoyance. Ezekiel has been dreaming about his demise for the last 30 years, and he’s determined to find and oust his assassins before they get the chance to murder him. It doesn’t matter that they haven’t yet grown into the Spider-Women that Ezekiel has seen every night for decades — though getting the chance to actually see these girls step into their future as heroes would’ve done this story a lot of good.

Madame Web wants to be an origin story, but none of its heroes get the chance to step into their destiny.

Sony Pictures

Alas, Madame Web doesn’t have any interest in charting their rise to greatness. As far as origin stories go, it scarcely qualifies — even where its lead character is concerned. By the time the credits roll, Cassie still hasn’t reached the full scope of her potential. Nor have Julia Carpenter (Sydney Sweeney), Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor), and Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced). Madame Web feels more like the trailer for a film that still hasn’t been made yet. It doesn’t even work as a back-door pilot, since the most interesting parts of this story remain frustratingly out of reach.

Though we see flashes of their futures in Final Destination-style visions, there’s a sense that we may never actually get to catch these Spider-Women in action. In many ways, that makes Madame Web more disappointing that any of its predecessors. Sony is trying so hard to maintain the rights to Spider-Man and his wealth of supporting players, that it’s begun to run in place. Sure, no one really wanted an origin story for Madame Web, party because no one really knew who she was — but it can’t be that hard to get people to care.

Madame Web is now playing in theaters.

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