The Coop Wings and BBQ 110 Elm St., Milbury

Many assume conversations with romantic partners touch upon intimate subject matter. When it comes to chats with my girlfriend, I would say we spend about a quarter of the time debating what we are having for food that day.

Picking a dining location is a daunting task for us, mainly because we both come from very different approaches. My girlfriend refers to me as an “old man” (her words, not mine) for wanting to go to the same three or four local spots every week, while I often give her a hard time for being wildly indecisive about what she wants. This menial tug-of-war often goes on for an hour or two before we make any decisions.

This past weekend, we finally ventured somewhere new, The Coop Wings and BBQ, located in the heart of Milbury’s quaint downtown. The restaurant inhabits a small nook amidst the town’s vibrant array of businesses, but what’s packed inside the eatery’s walls stands tall above the busy barbeque crowd.

The menu is bursting with appetizing options. The juicy bone-in and boneless chicken wings exude an expertly crafted balance of spice and sauce. The Coop’s mac and cheese achieves the rare high-wire act of delivering a sinfully decadent dish that oozes with flavor without unnecessary grease. I cannot forget the droves of other barbeque options The Coop features, including pulled pork that radiates savory goodness and ribs that provide that perfect fall-off-the-bone experience.

I unfortunately do not have a review of their french fries, which my girlfriend rightfully critiqued me for not ordering (seriously, who ignores french fries!) What I do know is that I will be making several visits back to The Coop Wings and Barbecue following our delicious first visit.

New to Theaters: “Madame Web”

You have probably noticed the waves of vitriol facing Sony’s latest superhero offering, “Madame Web.” Critics and comic book faithful have already penned their obituaries for this unique oddity in the comic book movie realm — a female-driven ensemble that sidelines marquee superhero figures in favor of obscure comic book characters.

I am not always the most favorable regarding the superhero genre; you have likely read previous reviews featuring me bemoaning how bland and homogenized most caped crusaders are onscreen today. To that point, I am delighted to report that “Madame Web” imbues a refreshing change of pace in a climate of bombastic blockbusters. What the film may lack in technical precision and narrative impact, it readily makes up for in terms of personality and spirit.

I would compare “Madame Web” to the notable DC shows featured on the CW during the 2010s (“Green Arrow” and “Flash,” to name a few). The narrative scale here is sleight compared to your standard multiverse epic. In addition, tighter budget constraints force the creative team behind the camera to think outside the box when conjuring striking setpieces.

As a comic book fan, I appreciate how “Madame Web” represents a niche that mainstream superhero films often ignore. Every superpowered feature today either flies toward auteur-driven gravitas (“The Batman” and “The Dark Knight”) or swoops into colorfully grand theatrics (“The Avengers”). On the contrary, “Madame Web” comes across as a spunky B-series, a playful yet admittedly forgettable yarn that stands out by playing in its own creative sandbox.

The distinctive charm elevating “Madame Web,” whether all its amusements are intentional or not, lies in its breezy energy. There are no delusions of grandeur emanating from the cast or behind-the-scenes team; they instead settle into a comforting groove that veers into comic book camp.

Star Dakota Johnson understands this assignment better than anyone as the titular Madame Web. Her sardonic comedic bite is a welcome sight in a genre defined by self-serious figures. Whether it is sharp one-liners or her magnetic screen presence, Johnson dawns the suit of a reluctant hero in a manner that never feels contrived. The actress shines most within the ensemble nature of “Madame Web,” with the character having to protect three teenage girls destined to become future superheroes. Her easy-going chemistry with co-stars Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced and Celeste O’Conner provides a refreshingly grounded dynamic amidst the heroic theatrics.

Some aspects of “Madame Web” are undeniably earnest in their overwhelming cheesiness. Director S.J. Clarkson, who shepherded the similarly maligned “The Defenders” miniseries, exhibits boundless imagination from the director’s chair. Her work depicts the breadth of Madame Web’s powers, showcasing how the character’s visions of the future create a distorted perception muddled by intersecting timelines. These trippy sequences are occasionally clunky thanks to an over-reliance on CGI, but each moment compensates by delivering eye-popping visuals and a kinetic spark. One scene accompanied by Brittany Spears’ “Toxic” is a particular standout for its cleverness.

I do not want to oversell my case because “Madame Web” is far from perfect. I would even say some aspects are flat-out dreadful, especially the villain, Ezekiel Simms. There is potential in featuring a villain who possesses Spider-Man’s web-slinging abilities. However, the character is portrayed in a stiff, mustache-twirling villain manner that makes him a complete farce. I have a hard time blaming actor Tahar Rahim for this wayward character, considering the fact that half of his lines are sloppily integrated from post-production ADR. Still, his performances reach a “so bad, it’s good” level that still makes the character arresting to witness.

“Madame Web” also suffers from the same studio meddling that has derailed countless superhero features. Sony clearly lost faith in the film during the editing process; they seemingly butcher several running plot threads to the point where their inclusion feels outright pointless (Ben Parker, Spider-Man’s uncle, is featured with little to no purpose). You can still see glimmers of the film’s artistic vision, although the constant interference adds an unwelcome distraction to what the film tries to achieve.

“Madame Web” achieves a chaotic yet ultimately alluring alchemy that won me over despite numerous flaws. Give me a film that takes courageous risks any day over the latest big-budget superhero slop that studios have been producing (looking at you, “The Flash” and “Antman: Quantumania.”)

Matt Conway
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