The idea of a film centring around the character of Madame Web is certainly a surprising move from Marvel. In the comics the character is an older woman, which obviously isn’t the case here, and after watching the film you quickly realise this film perhaps unintentionally changes the Spider-Man lore that has been set up in the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies.

Sure, Madame Web is an ambitious film because despite what some of the publicity around the film has stated this is pretty much the origin story of four characters, not one, but whether or not the film works or not is going to come down to whether or not you are a comic book lover or not.

If you are a casual cinema goer than perhaps Madame Web is not going to be action-packed enough to really impress you but if you are a hardcore fan of this section of the Marvel Universe then you are going to be pretty impressed at how the filmmakers here bring this beloved character to life on the big screen.

Directed by first time feature film director S.J. Clarkson Madame Web begins with Constance (Kerry Bishe – Argo) deep in the rainforests of Peru searching for a rare spider that has the ability to heal humans by giving them super-human strength. Shorty after finding the spider she is shot by of one of her companions, Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim – A Prophet), who wants the spider’s power for his own greedy needs.

As she lays dying Constance is helped by a local tribe and she gives birth to a baby daughter before passing away. Before she passes though one of the tribesmen, named Santiago (Jose Maria Yazpik – Beverley Hills Chihuahua) promises to help her daughter should she ever return to Peru looking for answers.

The story then jumps to 2003 where her daughter, Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson – Fifty Shades Of Grey), is working as a paramedic alongside her good friend Ben Parker (Adam Scott – Parks And Recreation). She is great at her job but after an accident sees her nearly drown she suddenly finds herself having strange premonitions of the future – including seeing a work colleague die – which begins to affect her mentally.

These premonitions, and perhaps a little bit of fate, soon bring her face-to-face with three teenagers – Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney – Euphoria), Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced – Dora And The Lost City Of Gold) and Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor – Ghostbusters: Afterlife) – whom she realises are being hunted down by Ezekiel.

Now you may have noticed the name Ben Parker there and that is where Madame Web becomes interesting for fans of the Spider-Man universe. If you are expecting Tom Holland, Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield to show up as Spider-Man then you are in for a surprise – given that the film is set in 2003 they are a no show. However Spider-Man exists here…kind of.

Adam Scott’s Ben Parker is certainly Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben and it is safe to assume that the nameless woman he goes on the date with is the future Aunt May. Also we see in the film that his sister, Mary Parker (Emma Roberts – We’re The Millers), is pregnant with a baby that is easy to work out is in fact Peter.

The way that the team of screenwriters have incorporated the Peter Parker storyline into the film is pretty ingenious but it also leads to a big problem with the film as well – if the teenagers here end up becoming the first Spider-Women (as seen in Ezekiel’s premonition) why are outlets like the Daily Bugle so surprised when Spider-Man shows up later on – surely J. Jonah Jameson would have been all over it?

To be honest though a slip up in the universe like that is the least of Madame Web’s issues though. This film will divide audiences because of other reasons. On the one hand it has great characterisation allowing its four female leads to really explore their characters but on the other hand the fact that the director’s only previous experience comes from television is blatantly obvious when you are watching the film.

The film lacks those huge action set-pieces that made people fall in love with the early Marvel movies like The Avengers. The frustrating part is those dramatic and suspenseful moments are there in the screenplay but just aren’t brought to the screen in a way that will have audience members sitting on the edge of their seat. Instead the audience is left feeling like they are watching the latest Marvel TV series where the action sequences are toned down to save money.

Like said previously though the one thing that you can’t fault here is the characterisation and Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced and Celeste O’Connor really get a chance to run with their characters. If they do decide to franchise this part of the universe it will be exciting to watch those actresses flesh out their characters more.

Adam Scott is also a worthy addition playing the likable Uncle Ben but unfortunately Tahar Rahim is reduced to playing another forgettable Marvel villain who seems to share the same predictable desires as a character like The Green Goblin. It seems a waste because an evil version of Spider-Man could have been something pretty special.

As a standalone film Madame Web works. Dakota Johnson is strong in her role but with a lot of the action feeling like it was written for television don’t expect this to be a film that will be enjoyed by anyone that is not a hardcore comic book fan. What we can all look forward to though is when Sony decides to bring Kraven, Madame Web, Morbius, Venom and Spider-Man together for one hell of a film.

2.5/5 Stars