Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced and Celeste O'Connor in Madame Web

Madame Web

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Every year, at least one movie circulates as the worst of the year, drawing attention for its inadequacies and spawning ridicule and memes. Occasionally, a film’s abysmal quality is hinted at early on by a trailer that accurately represents the final product, preparing audiences to collectively unleash criticism. In 2022, this unfortunate distinction befell Morbius, with the line “It’s morbin’ time” immortalized as a meme. Madame Web assumes the role of this year’s Morbius, notably involving some of the same individuals responsible for its predecessor. Are they deliberately crafting these films to be subpar?

Madame Web marks another endeavor by Sony to expand its own Spider-verse. With Spider-Man firmly entrenched in the MCU, Sony has been delving into its roster of villains and side characters to craft Spider-Man-related films that don’t actually feature Spider-Man. While Venom, a relic of the ’90s, was a somewhat understandable choice, the decision to center a movie around Morbius left many scratching their heads. The announcement of Madame Web elicited a similarly puzzled reaction.

In the comics, Madame Web is depicted as a blind and paraplegic clairvoyant, reliant on a machine resembling a web, hence her moniker. While she aids Spider-Man on numerous occasions, she typically remains on the periphery of the action, at least in the comics I recall from my earlier readings. Therefore, the casting of 34-year-old Dakota Johnson as New York City paramedic Cassandra Webb presents an intriguing departure from the source material.

Madame Web offers a classic origin tale, delving into how she transforms into the clairvoyant figure known as Madame Web. It harkens back to the superhero films of the 2000s, a time when not every story needed the fate of the world at stake. However, it also falls prey to some of the same pitfalls as many of those films. Madame Web comfortably nestles among titles like Daredevil, Elektra, The Fantastic Four, and Ghost Rider.

The narrative centers around Cassandra Webb, a paramedic raised as an orphan. Her unusual lineage ties back to her mother’s untimely death in the Amazon amid mystical encounters with spider-like beings, eventually leading Cassandra to manifest clairvoyant abilities. This premise alone feels like a plot twist I never thought I’d pen. As Cassandra begins to grapple with her newfound foresight, she encounters three young women who become pivotal figures in her visions, each marked for a tragic fate at the hands of a Spider-Man-esque assailant.

The Spider-women in Madame Web

These three women serve as tantalizing trailer fodder, frequently glimpsed in Spider-Woman attire. However, within the film, they lack any superpowers and only appear in Cassandra’s flash-forwards. Streamlining this subplot to focus on just one teen for Cassandra to protect would have served the narrative better, but seemingly for the sake of diversity, three distinct characters were included, each representing different ethnicities and personality traits. Sydney Sweeney embodies the reserved, white bookworm, Celeste O’Connor portrays the rebellious black girl with a chip on her shoulder, while Isabela Merced takes on the role of the Latino character who mentions deportation at least once.

In hindsight, consolidating the three roles into Sweeney’s character seems an obvious choice, given her rising popularity in 2024 due to roles in “Euphoria” and “Anyone But You,” not to mention the attention her impressive cleavage garners on red carpets.

Yet, numerous script issues plague the film, many of which scream “studio interference.” As part of Sony’s Spider-Verse, the film awkwardly shoehorns in connections to Spider-Man, featuring him as an infant and shoehorning in familiar character names like Ben Parker (Adam Scott) with little relevance to the plot.

There are other perplexing decisions abound, such as Cassandra’s impromptu trip to Peru mid-film, leaving the girls vulnerable to the superpowered threat they face. However, the pinnacle of missteps lies in Tahar Rahim’s  villain, Ezekiel Sims. Much of his dialogue feels disjointed, as if dubbed over in post-production. In some scenes his lip movements are out of sync with the dialogue, lending the film a bizarre dubbed foreign movie feel.

Dakota Johnson struggling with a Pepsi can in Madame WebFor those seeking the “so bad it’s good” factor, prepare for disappointment. Despite its decent budget and capable cast, Madame Web plays it safe, steering clear of campiness akin to Batman & Robin. However, it tiptoes toward the absurd with an egregious display of Pepsi product placement. Picture this: Cassandra awkwardly clutching a can of Pepsi throughout a scene, never even popping the tab, all while engaging in lengthy conversations. To top it off, the climactic battle unfolds near a building emblazoned with a colossal neon Pepsi logo, serving as Ezekiel’s unexpected demise. Madame Web morphs into the epitome of cringe-worthy product placement, even outstripping the infamous Kylie Jenner Pepsi debacle.

Madame Web has become the prime target for critics to tear apart this year, and honestly, they have every reason to do so. Yet, it’s not the kind of film that falls into the “so bad it’s good” category. Madame Web feels like a 100 minute trailer for better movies. However, in the midst of this disappointment, one can almost envision a Sony executive pitching a Sydney Sweeney-led Spider-Woman film as we speak. It’s not a terrible idea, but if I were Sweeney, I’d insist it be part of the MCU, maybe even featuring Tom Holland. Chances are, it would surpass Madame Web without much effort, but then again, that’s not saying much.

Tahar Rahim as Ezekiel Sims in Madame Web

Madame Web poster
Madame Web poster
Madame Web
  • Year:
  • Director:
    • S.J. Clarkson
  • Cast:
    • Dakota Johnson
    • Sydney Sweeney
    • Isabela Merced
    • Celeste O'Connor
  • Genres:
    Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
  • Running time:


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