We are just a few weeks away from the release of the latest Sony/Marvel movie, Madame Web, starring Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb, a New York City paramedic who starts to show signs of clairvoyance. Forced to confront revelations about her past, she must protect three young women from a mysterious adversary who wants them dead.
Madame Web is part of Sony’s large universe of Spider-Man characters, created in 1980 by Denny O’Neil and John Romita Jr. as a supporting character in the Spider-Man comics. She was first introduced as a blind and paralyzed elderly woman with telepathic abilities. In Marvel comics, she spends most of her time hooked up to a web-like life support system, guiding other heroes with her psychic powers. But Johnson and the film’s director, S.J. Clarkson, say they wanted to weave their own version of Cassie’s journey, and they describe Madame Web as an “origin story” for the character.
Clarkson explained in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:
“I really love the idea of somebody who can see into the future, but until they can really understand their past and appreciate where they are, they can’t use that power. Without wanting to overload it with profundity, I thought that’s an amazing thing to explore: If we understand our past and see where we are in the present, we can then make better choices for the future.”
Set in 2003, the film follows Cassie as she grapples with her newfound powers and faces off against a mysterious enemy named Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim). Ezekiel is hunting three young women: Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney), Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor), and Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced). Hardcore Spidey fans will recognize those names. In the comics, Julia, Mattie, and Anya all develop spider-related powers, and in Madame Web, Ezekiel seems determined to stop that from happening. It’s up to Cassie to team up with the young trio, helping to protect them from Ezekiel’s watchful eye. Adam Scott also appears in an unspecified role, and although Clarkson remains tight-lipped about his character, she does tease that the actor is responsible for ad-libbing some of the film’s funniest lines.
Clarkson went on to talk about the film and the character’s place in the superhero universe, saying:
“She’s definitely in a standalone world. I was able to just have free rein and let the movie be what it needed to be, as opposed to trying to force it into something else. That was a gift, in a way, to be able to take something and bring a fresh and I hope original take to it.”
Still, centering your story on a prophetic hero can make for a complicated shooting schedule. Clarkson explains that the crew would often have to shoot versions of the same scene over and over again, each with slightly different outcomes depending on Cassie’s visions. Johnson says she frequently lost track of which scenes were real and which were inside Cassie’s head, and she’d often have to check in with Clarkson for a refresher.
Johnson said of her work with the director:
“I trusted her so much. I’ve never really done a movie where you are on a blue screen, and there’s fake explosions going off, and someone’s going, ‘Explosion!’ and you act like there’s an explosion. That to me was absolutely psychotic. I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is going to be good at all! I hope that I did an okay job!’ But I trusted her. She works so hard, and she has not taken her eyes off this movie since we started.”
Fans are still waiting to see if this is going to be a hit or a miss. Hopefully it’s a fun movie to watch in the theatre. I’ll be there to check it out. Madame Web is set to his theatres this Valentine’s Day, February 14th.