MOVIE REVIEW: Madame Web

Sony’s Spider-Man Universe movies have always felt less like movies and more like studio mandates — a sweaty, desperate attempt to milk as much cash off its precious webslinger as possible while he was on loan to Marvel Studios. It was only by a miracle of casting that the Venom movies managed to take off, thanks to Tom Hardy’s gonzo dual performances as Eddie Brock and his co-dependent symbiote, as well as his keen understanding of camp. Sony has been trying to replicate that bizarre chemistry ever since, but it turns out that you can’t synthesise camp in a lab. Not even a meme could save Morbius from being an utterly dull drag. And not even Dakota Johnson’s truly uninspired line delivery could turn Madame Web into anything more than a feature film version of a studio directive.

Madame Web isn’t so much a movie as it is the pretence of one — a collection of Easter eggs and prequel nonsense strung together by half-assed ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) and dialogue that feels like it was drummed up in Screenwriting 101. But the most alarming thing about Madame Web is that it is a movie that never really gets started. Instead, it’s just one long prelude to the actual story, like being trapped in one of Cassie Webb’s time-looping visions with no escape. Madame Web doesn’t begin with Cassie Webb but her mother, Constance (Kerry Bishé), as she’s, yes, researching spiders in the Amazon right before she dies at the hands of Ezekiel Sims (a sadly underutilised Tahar Rahim, the movie’s greatest ADR victim). Sims steals the rare spider that Constance discovered in hopes that it will grant him the superhuman abilities the mythic Spider People of Peru are rumoured to have — the same Spider-People who recover the heavily pregnant Constance and help her give birth to Cassie.

Madame Web

Thirty years later, it’s 2003, and Cassie is a socially awkward EMT whose only friend is Ben Parker (Adam Scott), the latter of whom is the source of some of the movie’s most excruciatingly dumb Spider-Man callbacks and references. When a rescue goes wrong, Cassie dies for a few minutes before being resuscitated by Ben. That’s when she starts to receive visions of the future that put her on a collision course with Ezekiel, who has been receiving visions of his death at the hands of three Spider-Women and is dead set on killing them before they can kill him.
Morbius co-writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless inflict the same brand of atrocious dialogue and baffling plotting on Madame Web, but with director S.J. Clarkson contributing to the script, the film is nigh on incomprehensible.

Characters spout exposition with all the conviction of someone being held at gunpoint — though who can blame them when each line of dialogue feels like a cliché dreamed up by AI? This is a movie that requires its cast to say with straight faces “Us strays need to stick together” or “Your thread didn’t start when you were born” — the kind of cheesy dialogue that you’d find in a direct-to-video movie from, well, 2003.

The viral line from the trailer, “He was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died,” doesn’t actually appear in the film, but every other line of dialogue has the same level of frantic exposition and clunky awkwardness. Clarkson, who makes her feature directorial debut with Madame Web after a successful TV career, takes the least responsibility for this film’s sins, though she’s not entirely blameless. While there are some genuinely interesting choices in how Cassie experiences her visions of the future — taking the film into full dream logic at some points — Madame Web quickly devolves into CGI goop.
Madame Web

The chaotic editing cuts any semblance of a watchable movie to shreds as if imitating the rhythms of a Michael Bay movie will hide the movie’s greatest weaknesses. (At least Bay has some kind of vision behind his choices. Here, the fast cuts and many, many canted angles only serve to muddy up each scene.) It’s such a baffling mess that even a talented cast can’t save Madame Web from itself. Johnson has proved her acting acumen with other filmmakers, but she’s appallingly miscast in this role (though I struggle to think of someone who could salvage it), while Rahim, excellent in A Prophet, is cartoonishly bad here.

The three teens/future Spider-Woman, Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, and Isabela Merced, are given little to do other than act bratty. Any sense of familial connection, or even chemistry, between them and Cassie is non-existent. You’ve got to hand it to Sony. The studio is so determined to revive the specific kind of superhero B-movie you’d find buried in the depths of Netflix that it simply sets its latest film in 2003 (complete with laughably on-the-nose 2003 needle drops and shoehorned pop culture references about how Cassie really wants to go home to “watch Idol”). But Madame Web doesn’t have the same go-for-broke charm as Venom does, nor does it have the self-awareness to even lampshade its particular brand of corniness. Madame Web is just about the worst movie you’d find at the bottom of your Netflix viewing search — doomed to be forgotten as soon as it’s seen.

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Boluwatife Adesina is a media writer and the helmer of the Downtown Review page. He’s probably in a cinema near you.

Bolu

About Author / Boluwatife Adesina

Boluwatife Adesina is a media writer and the helmer of the Downtown Review page. He’s probably in a cinema near you.

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