© 2024 KUAF
NPR Affiliate since 1985
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

‘Madame Web’: So bad it’s good

Jack Travis

Sony is taking another crack at making a Spider-Man movie without the titular character. Venom and its sequel were decent. Morbius was a guilty pleasure that was lambasted by critics. So, where does Madame Web rank? A bit closer to the latter.

Madame Web follows Cassie Webb (Dakota Johnson), a New York paramedic who, after a near-death experience, discovers she can see pieces of the future and even change the outcome. As she’s struggling to learn how her new ability works, Webb comes across three girls who are being hunted by a mysterious man with spider-like abilities.

The man is Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), a wealthy researcher who stole a rare spider from an isolated Peruvian tribe in a remote region of the Amazon. The spider gave him powers but also cursed him to repeatedly see visions of his death. And that future death would supposedly come at the hands of three girls played by Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, and Celeste O'Connor.

In order to prevent his death, Ezekiel decides to use his powers and fortune to track down the girls who would grow up to become Spider-Women and kill them before they get their powers.

Seeing Ezekiel murder them in several visions, Cassie resolves to protect the teens until she can find a way to stop Ezekiel. But the key to her future turns out to lie in her past, specifically, her mother’s journey to and death in the Amazon.

 With a 14 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s clear critics (and audiences) don’t think highly of Madame Web. It’s corny, the writing is, at times, nonsensical, and the editing can be downright nauseating at times.

The effects, one of the key components of any superhero film, have moments in this movie that give Madame Web the appearance of a rough cut rather than a completed project. This is most apparent in the climax, which takes place atop an exploding fireworks warehouse.

This is a film that will fall to pieces at any point with even a shred of serious thinking (how can a wanted paramedic afford to charter a private plane to Peru on short notice?). It’s inexplicably set in 2003 but seems to feature technology more common in 2024, especially where Ezekiel’s “woman in the chair” hacker/assistant is concerned.

 Johnson does her absolute best to give a charming performance in a film burdened with such nonsensical and cliche writing, but there’s only so much she can do. She clearly has the acting chops to deliver a strong performance in a dramatic role, as shown in Cha Cha Real Smooth. Some of her efforts shine through, but most of Cassie’s standout moments are swallowed by the storm of mediocrity that makes up Madame Web.

 Parks and Recreation fans who accidentally stumble into a theater to watch Madame Web will be pleased to see Adam Scott playing Cassie’s EMT partner. He’s perhaps the best part of this film, and all he had to do was channel his inner Ben Wyatt.

Madame Web feels like an early 2000s superhero movie outside of its own time. And that seems to be Sony’s vibe with these “sort of” Spider-Man movies without everybody’s favorite web-slinger. But whereas Venom and its follow-up made decent money, Morbius floundered. And Madame Web will likely flop.

What remains to be seen is which camp Kraven the Hunter will fall into. For what it’s worth, this critic had fun watching all the aforementioned movies. Masterpieces? No. Enjoyable for what they are? Possibly. For a select few, that will be enough.

Stay Connected
Courtney Lanning is a film critic who appears weekly on <i>Ozarks At Large</i> to discuss the latest in movies.
Kyle Kellams is KUAF's news director and host of Ozarks at Large.
Related Content