Madame Web: a web of poor choices

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If you’re a fan of Fifty Shades of Grey’s (2015) Dakota Johnson or Marvel films, you may think that you’d enjoy Sony’s latest MCU-adjacent movie, but I highly doubt it. Madame Web (2024) is the fourth of Sony’s films which use a Spider-Man character without featuring the wall-crawler. If you watched the Spider-Man cartoon from the 90s, you may remember Madame Web as the inter-dimensional elderly soothsayer bound by her spider-web shaped chair. The cinematic version of Madame Web is a New York medic named Cassandra Webb – oh, the irony – played by Dakota Johnson. She discovers her ability to see the future after a freak accident on the job. As she tries to learn how to control her powers, she is led into the cross hairs of Azekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim). She interferes with Azekiel’s plan to kill three high schoolers (played by Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced and Celeste O’Connor), who he believes will become spider-women and murder him. Madame Web must protect the teens from Azekiel, who does whatever a spider can except the webbing, by using her ability to see the future. Oh, and she’s best friends with Uncle Ben (Adam Scott).

This film has been slated online by critics; as of writing this, it sits at a 13% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Even Dakota Johnson herself claims to have not bothered to watch the movie. Some people even hint at the fact that some of the actors thought they were joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe helmed by Disney. This speculation comes from the fact that the actors incorrectly tagged Marvel Studios on social media when promoting the film. Unfortunately, Johnson did not have the foresight of her character to avoid this project.

The protagonist is one of the most unlikable and boring characters ever put to film

But as much as this film has been criticised, I do think there are things to like. Some of the action sequences, specifically one located in a diner set to the song ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears, had very interesting action choreography and camera movements, even if the cuts were too quick to appreciate the spectacle. The three future spider-women were enjoyable to watch as their friendship blossomed, and scenes showcasing their super-heroics were intriguing. The cherry on top for a lot of people was the bizarre line deliveries, which jumped into ‘so bad it’s good’ territory.

However, these few elements do not change the fact that the protagonist is one of the most unlikable and boring characters ever put to film. She hates everything and everyone, she even tries to refuse a drawing that a child made for her because she simply doesn’t want it or know what to do with it. Webb does begin to like the girls she’s protecting, but it feels too little too late considering it’s in the monologue at the end of the movie. The antagonist doesn’t bode much better, as it seems a lot of his lines were dubbed over, which means whenever he’s on screen his mouth appears not to match whatever he’s saying. If this were a Muppets movie, I’d excuse it, but the Muppets are more fun anyway.

The most frustrating part of this movie was how little we got to see the spider-women in action

Even though this film tries to stand independent of Spider-Man, Sony couldn’t help but try to shove as many references to the character down audiences’ throats as possible. I honestly didn’t think seeing Peter Parker’s birth would be on my 2024 bucket list, but here we are. They even re-use a shot from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (2004), which only made me wish I was watching that instead. Personally, the most frustrating part of this movie was how little we got to see the spider-women in action. The sparse flashforwards which showed interesting takes on their classic comic book appearances and their powers made me wonder what could have been. Although, Spider-Gwen and Silk projects keep getting rumoured, which may explain why Sony chose to focus on Madame Web.

Unlike Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021), which ended up being an extremely fun action rom-com between a man and his alien parasite, Madame Web ultimately has very little personality. It feels like an edgy flick from the early 2000s desperately trying to convince us that superheroes are cool. Unfortunately, it lacks much of the style from films of that era, especially when compared to Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man films or the Blade trilogy. It’s hard to believe Sony has another spider-less, Spider-Man movie releasing this year: Kraven the Hunter (2024), starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Considering the quality of Morbius (2022) and Madame Web, I think it may be the final nail in the coffin of Sony’s spider-man universe.

I just hope that Sony doesn’t assume critics dislike this movie for the wrong reasons, such as the predominantly female-led cast. Films like Wonder Woman (2017) and series like Ms Marvel (2022) show that audiences have an appetite for female-led superhero content – as long as it’s entertaining. Sony recently announced Silk: Spider Society as a live-action series, which eases my worry a bit. Madame Web leaves the potential return of many of its characters open, but I don’t foresee Madame Web on the big screen again anytime soon.

Image credit: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen via Unsplash

One thought on “Madame Web: a web of poor choices

  • Disagree completely that this fails next to those 2000s films. This is entertaining and Dakota Johnson and the other women leads are great. The bonding is fun and nice. My teenage kids loved it. Agree the villain is done badly. This film has been bad mouthed by those who only saw the trailer or actually not at all. What a shame a good film, compared to many, has been so panned so badly. It’s not perfect but it holds its own if given the chance. I this film will grow in popularity, not because its cult due to being bad but because it’s actually good.

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