‘Madame Web’ Movie Review: A Hilariously Enjoyable Disaster

Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. To say the least, it’s been a mixed bag. Venom, a film I thoroughly enjoyed for its edgelord sensibilities, made a mint at the box office despite negative critical reception. Its sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, fared much better critically and commercially, but Sony’s next take on adapting a Spider-Man villain without Spider-Man, Morbius, was a public debacle. Their next attempt, Madame Web, doesn’t exactly clear out the stink left by Morbius. Nevertheless, for something that most declared dead on arrival, I have to say- I had fun with this movie. Thanks to a winking performance from Dakota Johnson, a trashy early 2000s sensibility, and hilariously convoluted attempts to tie-in with Spider-Man lore, Madame Web is an instant entry into the “so bad it’s good” canon.

The story of Madame Web

[Note: There are mild spoilers ahead for Madame Web.]

Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson) is a paramedic trying to get through her days in New York City. Thanks to the levity of her partner Ben Parker (Adam Scott)- yes, this is supposed to be “Uncle Ben,” more on that later- she’s cozy in her menial existence. That is, until an accident suddenly gives her the ability to see into the future. Now tracked down by the sinister Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), the treacherous partner of Cassandra’s mother who was researching spiders in the Amazon before she died, Webb fears for her life. Duty, however, comes first, and she must protect three women who are said to take down Sims in the future. These women are Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney), Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor), and Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced). Under Webb’s tutelage, they become somewhat of a found family.

At the very least, Dakota Johnson knows what type of movie she’s in. Thank goodness for that. Her twitching, unflinching, awkward Cassandra Webb feels as lost in the baffling plot as the audience is. And the movie is all the better for it! Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the rest of the supporting cast. Sydney Sweeney is utterly miscast as the goodie-two-shoes, shy type. Isabela Merced barely gets enough screen time to leave any impression. Celeste O’Connor, thankfully, gets a bit more to do as the rebellious would-be Spider-Woman of the crew.

Ben Parker and Mary Parker don’t have much to do with the movie’s plot

For every step forward in the cast, there’s a step back, and it’s hard to know where even to begin here. Adam Scott is always a welcome presence, but his Uncle Ben feels crowbarred in. The same goes for the strange inclusion of Emma Roberts as his sister, Mary Parker- Spider-Man’s future mother. Neither character really has much to do in the plot other than remind audiences, “Hey, this story is a precursor to Spider-Man!”. Madame Web’s main villain, Ezekiel Sims, is a real head-scratcher. Tahar Rahim doesn’t seem to really know what to do with the character, given his flat motivation, so he just plays him like a slasher movie villain. When director S.J. Clarkson leans into that, it almost works. 

Madame Web is fun when it leans into the horror

There’s a fun aspect to Madame Web that apes the horror genre. When it sticks to that trope, it works. “What if a character with Spider-Man’s powers was Michael Myers?” isn’t a terrible pitch, and in the few scenes that aren’t hacked to bits in the edit, it’s kind of a blast seeing Ezekiel Sims crawl his way toward our quarter of heroes in an inspired “dark Spider-Man” outfit. An action sequence where he chases Webb and the women she’s protecting through a fireworks factory comes really close to being a bravura set piece. Ditto for Madame Web’s clairvoyant abilities, where her knowledge of the future allows her to stealthily navigate through bombastic action with the ease of having cheat codes to the film. 

That about does it for what’s unironically enjoyable about Madame Web, as the rest is so baffling you just have to laugh. The film comes from four writers: Matt SazamaBurk SharplessClaire Parker, and Clarkson herself. This goes a long way in showing what may have been wrong. There’s a pervasive lack of focus as Madames Web jumps from one thing to another with such reckless abandon you just have to smile and nod. This isn’t a movie so much as a highlight reel of half-formed ideas so deranged you almost have to respect the ambition. Almost. 

Madame Web is a garish attempt to cash in on the waning superhero craze

The ties to Spider-Man lore are disastrous. Madame Web’s and, by proxy, Spider-Man’s powers are tied to an indigenous tribe in the Amazon that uses a special type of spider that grants them superhuman powers. And it tosses this information off casually like it’s supposed to be common knowledge to Spider-Man readers. Moreover, the film constantly gives us brief flashes of what the Spider-Women in the future, adorned in shockingly comic-accurate costumes that look great but only exist to promise a sequel that will never come and mislead audiences in advertising. Worse yet, Madame Web ends by establishing a contrived reason for Webb to resemble her comic book self and even more sequel bait that’s so gutsy you almost have to respect it. 

No guts, no glory, as the saying goes. And Madame Web is glorious, just not in the way anyone intended. Madame Web is a hilariously garish attempt to cash in on the waning superhero craze. It wastes its cast, save for a surprisingly game Dakota Johnson; it attempts to marry comic book movies with horror to mixed results and attempts to tie in with the webhead himself in jaw-droppingly ill-advised fashion. For better or, well, definitely for worse, Madame Web will be remembered for a long time. But it, at the very least, got a reaction out of me. Even if it’s to be laughed at, Madame Web must be seen to be believed.

Madame Web is now in theaters.

What do you think of the Sony Spider-Man Universe? Have you watched Madame Web yet or is Venom more your style? Let us know on X @MoviesWeTexted.

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