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"Madame Web" is the first Marvel-affiliated movie for which I feel truly sorry. Most of its problems are quality-related. But some aren't; some relate to audience fatigue.

Sony Pictures' piece of the Marvel pie, separate from the official, Disney-branded Marvel Cinematic Universe, includes the "Spider-Man" movies plus "Venom" and a few others. That pie has been sitting out on the counter, unrefrigerated, for a long time now. This is not "Madame Web's" fault.

Director and co-writer S.J. Clarkson, whose extensive TV credits include the Marvel series "The Defenders" and "Jessica Jones," makes her feature debut here. But "Madame Web" feels like it should not have been conceived as a movie — with its modest visual scale, the wobbly dramatic stakes, Dakota Johnson's small performance, Sydney Sweeney's small performance, Tahar Rahim's small performance. It plays more like a bland, third-season Marvel series as watched on a 12-year-old TV set.

Typically these Marvel-derived origin stories (the Madame Web character was introduced in 1980) have an advantage over the average just another sequel. In this case, it's a narrative about three teenage girls with gradually revealed superpowers and their extremely powerful guardian/pal, New York City paramedic Cassie Webb (Johnson).

Cassie is the orphaned daughter of the intrepid Peruvian Amazon rainforest spider-hunter who dies in childbirth, assisted in the worst way by a gunshot wound. We learn the identity of the perp straight off. With "Madame Web," the audience knows everything the characters take forever to learn themselves.

Most of it unfolds in 2003, with the grown-up Cassie and her fellow paramedic Ben Parker (Adam Scott) saving lives but nearly losing Cassie in a near-death incident. She comes through, but is now haunted by strange time-loop hiccups and uncertain powers of clairvoyance. She can see the future.

The villain Ezekiel (Rahim), who stole the red jungle spider in the prologue, wants to harness its power for bad, not good (that's why he's bad, or at least misunderstood). He and his assistant (the deadpan Zosia Mamet) spend a fair amount of screen time looking at screens, searching for the whereabouts of Webb and the three young women who will kill him someday. He knows this because the super-spider's venom runs through his veins, just as it does with Cassie, enabling him to foretell future events.

The young women at the center of all this are played, gamely, by Sweeney (Julia), Celeste O'Connor (Mattie) and Isabela Merced (Anya). In stronger moviemaking circumstances, they'd be all right. The script, with four credited writers, and the filmmaking lacks an activating spirit.

Director Clarkson leans into the teenage characters' frustrations and confusion for genuine feeling and pathos, but they're dramatized with distressing flatness. Also, the frequent depictions of Cassie's dream state, or subconscious, where she's able to vision-quest all over the place and even commune with her late mother, resemble a waterlogged waiting room just outside an auxiliary quantum realm.

I generally like Johnson on screen, but her low-stress underplaying is not quite right for this stuff. Nobody in this movie pops, or crackles, or snaps, or finds ways to energize the blah blah. The action's not much; the acting's minimalist bordering on somnambulant.

During one corporate event a few years ago, Sony used the phrase "Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters" in reference to its future slate, with an acronym of SPUMC. It's fun to say — "spummk!" — but it evokes something less than fun to watch. And here we are.

'Madame Web'

1.5 stars out of 4

Rated: PG-13 for violence/action and language.

Where: In theaters.