“Madame Web” doesn’t quite stick

Feb. 21, 2024, 8:01 a.m. | By Alexander Liu | 3 months, 4 weeks ago

A movie somehow even worse than “Morbius”

Madame Web Movie Poster Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

There’s a special type of bad movie that’s truly fascinating to watch—a glimmer of something special underneath layers of garbage. Sony’s “Madame Web” is not that. At a whopping two hours long, this movie pads out its runtime with uninteresting characters and even worse writing, putting it in the running for the worst movie in Sony’s already bad spider-people series. 

The year is 2003. The sun is shining, Britney Spears is singing, and Cassandra Web (Dakota Johnson) has just discovered she can see the future. Unfortunately, what she sees is an evil superpowered villain Ezekial Sims (Tahar Rahim) hell bent on murdering three teenagers, Julia Carpenter (Sydney Sweeney), Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced), and Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor) in a subway car. Ezekiel, a supervillain with spider powers and access to the deepest level of government security, will stop at nothing to eliminate these three threats to his quest for power. Desperate to stop this from happening, Cassandra and the three teens embark on a journey to discover how they’re all connected and ultimately, how they can fight back against Ezekial. 

To start, the premise is promising. By seeing the future through Cassandra’s eyes, the stakes are immediately communicated in a very effective way as watchers see what Ezekial is capable of and what will happen if things go south. Cassandra’s connections to the more ordinary people of New York City also ground the movie, as opposed to the more fantastical protagonists as seen in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy.

Now, is “Madame Web” even half as coherent as that movie? No. Cassandra basically kidnaps three teenagers from Grand Central Station, steals a taxi, and just leaves—even after being framed by the villain for murdering 9 cops. If somebody did that in real life, New York City would probably call in the National Guard, start a manhunt, and lock down that part of town. In “Madame Web,” none of that happens and Cassandra can just drive out of the city like nothing ever happened. 

Perhaps the most unrealistic part of the movie is that Cassandra is able to convince three total strangers to follow her because they are about to be murdered by evil Spider Man. No seventeen-year-old is following a crazy lady into the woods because they’ve been warned that a boogeyman is out to get them. 

That leads to the biggest problem in the movie: the characters. The writing is horrendous, with the three teenagers being boiled down to their most basic parts. I think the writers may have forgotten that teenagers have more modes than just “scared” and “rebellious”. Cassandra for her part sounds perpetually angry with just about everyone, an interesting choice considering that this is the character audiences are supposed to be rooting for. 

That’s not to say that the acting is that bad. Dakota Johnson isn’t giving her most emotional performance of her career, but if I had to say lines like “he was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died,” I would be kind of zoned out too. 

Additionally, the visuals of the film are mostly just fine. Unlike other films, this movie is appropriately bright and colorful for the story it’s trying to tell. The CGI is also pretty good, and even better, it’s used sparingly unlike many other recent Marvel entries.

What is truly bad is the editing. Cuts happen quickly and jarringly, with no sense of continuity. Moreover, as a personal gripe, the overuse of Dutch angles in “Madame Web” is one of the worst I have ever seen, and it makes some parts of the movie nauseating to look at. 

Even worse is the voice dubbing. Many complete sentences are dubbed in, removed, or otherwise changed in post, to the point where characters talk without opening their mouths. This is a problem that I would maybe expect to see on a college-student level film at a festival, not a 150 million dollar movie made by a hundred billion dollar distribution company. 

The sound, on the other hand, is actually quite good. The thrumming beats that accompany any action scene propel it with a sense of motion and velocity. Even in the expository scenes, the background music always fits the mood of the scene and is a highlight in an otherwise unremarkable presentation. 

There are good bad films, and then there are just bad films. Unlike the legitimately funny “Venom” movies that preceded it, or even the entirely meme-able “Morbius”, “Madame Web” is utterly uninteresting. Unless you’re really into drawn-out filler episodes, I’d give this movie a pass. 

“Madame Web” was released on Feb. 14 and is now playing in theaters, including Regal Majestic Stadium 20 & IMAX.

Last updated: Feb. 21, 2024, 8:03 a.m.

Alexander Liu. Hi, I'm Alex (he/him) and I'll be a staff writer for SCO this year. I'm passionate about public policy and international relations. In my free time, I enjoy drawing and watching terrible rom-coms. More »

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