Madame Web set the Spid-her cause back about fifty years

Navigating the tangled mess of Sony’s latest superhero catastrophe, Madame Web, is like trying to untangle Christmas lights with your teeth—painful, pointless, and a poignant reminder of happier times.

Back in 1973, in the heart of the Peruvian jungle, a research project led by a very pregnant Constance Webb stumbles upon a rare spider with extraordinary healing properties. Her guide, Ezekiel Sims, betrays her to claim the spider for himself, shooting Constance during the struggle and leaving her for dead. The indigenous tribe of spider worshipers attempts to rescue her by letting the spider bite her, but it’s all for naught—she dies shortly after giving birth to Cassandra. Fast forward thirty years to the wild and crazy future of 2003 and Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson) is now a New York paramedic who, after a conveniently life-threatening experience, gains clairvoyant abilities.

Thanks to her visions, Cassie is inexplicably tasked with protecting three teenage girls—Julia Carpenter (Sydney Sweeney), Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced), and Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor)—from the laughably inept villain Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), the very same man who betrayed and murdered her mother all those years ago and who now has somehow become rich and powerful in some unspecified way and now spends his free time obsessing over prophetic nightmares he’s having of how a trio of future arachnoid superheroes will spell his doom and trying to identify his very own dream girls.

Johnson’s performance, if you can call it that, flatlines so profoundly you’d expect a paramedic of her apparent experience to call its time of death. There’s a perpetual disengagement with the movie around her that you might be tempted to charitably chalk up to the terrible script, but only if you hadn’t seen any of the Fifty Shades movies which, if you’ve been lucky, you haven’t. Despite her role as an emergency responder, she can’t even perform her driving scenes with a semblance of urgency. Unable, or unwilling, to emote – and similarly, conspicuously incapable of opening the many, many cans of Pepsi she’s handed throughout the movie – Johnson meanders through the movie with her demeanour perpetually set to “lost in a supermarket”. Neither the plot, dialogue or direction does her any favours but Johnson somehow manages to take the already wooden materials and petrify them into verbal coprolite. Madame Web isn’t a film blessed with much in the way of action but even when the tempo manages to rouse itself above pedestrian, it remains a genuine mystery as to whether Cassie is fighting for her life or just trying to remember where she left her keys.

Of course, superhero convention dictates that a hero must face a villain who’s their equal and opposite and in this, Madame Web actually succeeds by pitting Cassie against an adversary who’s every bit as remorseless in his inability to emote convincingly or appropriately or give his character even a sliver of credibility. Rahim’s Ezekiel is a spectacularly poorly realised antagonist, with motivations that make less sense than a Hollywood studio repeatedly jeopardising a billion-dollar property with a series of increasingly desperate and poorly thought-out spin-offs. His performance is so over-the-top that it feels like he’s auditioning for a community theatre production of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and the script is a disaster, crammed with exposition and lines that sound like they were translated from another language by an intern with a grudge.

The three would-be spider-women—Sweeney, Merced, and O’Connor—manage to bring a sliver of charm to the film, but their efforts are swamped by the sea of mediocrity surrounding them. It’s almost tragic to see them wasted in this mess, as they are the only remotely decent thing in this otherwise dreary affair and the brief moments we snatch glimpses of them in their superhero costumes (and boy are they brief, the trailer probably has more shots of them in costume than the finished movie) tease the possibility that somewhere under all this garbage there might have been something passable, even if said costumes look like they were thrown together from the clearance bin at a discount cosplay store. As it is, Cassie’s prognosticative powers could have been used to interesting effect but instead they seem dedicated to preventing a much more interesting and fun movie from happening in front of our eyes.

Morbius may have sucked, but Madame Web blows. It blows any lingering shreds of good will Sony may have had for their stewardship of the wider Spider-Verse (well, the live action one at least). It’s a strong contender for worst superhero movie ever, even if it struggles to really qualify as a superhero movie thanks to its utter dearth of action, heroics or anything that’s, well, super. Morbius set a low bar, for sure, but it’s greatest sin was that it was boring. Madame Web effortlessly limbos underneath that low bar, digs a hole and buries itself there. This film is a masterclass in how not to make a superhero movie, in fact it’s a textbook guide on how not to make a movie full stop. Despite teasing a more elevated, suspense-driven approach, the film never even leaves the ground and its attempts to make a virtue out of setting up fifteen seconds of apparently exhausting CPR per person as its triumphantly deployed Chekov’s gun. Its inability to deliver a cohesive or coherent story leaves it tangled in its own absurd web of contrivances and stupidities, culminating in the movie’s single most absurd plot point as Cassie manages to locate an area of jungle from a photograph thanks to it having remained unchanged for over 30 years. It’s the crowning glory of a monument to movie-making malpractice, the cinematic equivalent of that time NASA gave spiders caffeine to see what would happen.

madame web review

For anyone hoping for a fresh, engaging addition to the wider Spider-Man universe, Madame Web is an easily foreseeable disappointment. For a movie that’s about a character that can look into the web of time and plot the strands which lead to the future, how did everyone involved in this not see it coming? It’s bad on an almost weaponised level, threatening not only Sony’s bottom line but the very fabric of Spider-Verse itself.

madame web review
Score1/10
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