Madame Web: the Spider-Man spinoff that wove itself into a disaster
Why Madame Web is a movie we love to hate.

Warning: Spoilers ahead. Reader discretion is advised. 

Madame Web revolves around the totally dynamic and not-at-all poorly written female protagonist, Cassandra (Cassie) Webb. Played by Dakota Johnson, (the only thing this character has going for her), Cassie is a foster system kid turned EMT in New York City whose workplace accident triggers her superpowers, allowing her to see into the future. Superpowers that, as the movie insists over and over, come from some sort of magical spider venom. These powers lead Cassie to try preventing the murders of three teenagers at the hands of the villain intent on killing them before they become spider heroes at some point in the future. For most of the movie, it seems like Cassie is debating killing them herself. After Cassie’s superpowers are used as the greatest deus ex machina (where a conflict is abruptly resolved by an unlikely event) to ever deus ex machina, Cassie comes to the realization that her mother did, in fact, love her, giving her the ability to master her powers, save the day, and lose the emotional constipation.

This movie has so many issues that if it were on life support, I would suggest pulling the plug. But what makes it terminally and incurably bad is the fact that it’s so boring. Starting off strong with an over-clichéd backstory right in the introduction, Madame Web’s subpar world-building is a little too close to plagiarizing from Indigenous folklore for anyone with a modicum of media literacy or basic social awareness to be comfortable with. While I understand that the extended “Spider-Verse” movies require viewers to suspend their disbelief regarding the supernatural properties of spider venom, there is a line between genetically engineered toxicity that reacts to DNA, and what boils down to magical spiders in the Amazon. Madame Web has decided to use this line to swing across the gap from acceptable comic book science to plot-hole fantasy, Spidey style. The magical pond of time-space continuum hidden in a cave that’s used first as a birthing place and then as a portal isn’t really helping the case here.

This riveting introduction is, of course, accompanied by the extremely on-the-nose motif of a spider web, which seems to appear in every other scene. We understand that this is a Spider-Verse movie. I promise, you don’t have to remind us with oddly placed webs in every direction. In fact, the only thing more obvious than the spider webs are the brand placements. I mean, hyper-focusing on a Nikon camera instead of any of the characters is one thing but focusing on a Calvin Klein ad instead of an action scene and placing the final battle in front of a giant glowing Pepsi board is taking it too far. For all that this movie is—essentially an hour and 40 minutes of hiding from the bad guy—keeping things on the down low doesn’t seem like Sony’s strong suit. Maybe if they kept the product placement as subtle as they did the dialogue’s emotional prosody, we could have paid a bit more attention to the actual plot.

Speaking of dialogue, can I just say that this movie had the driest, most stilted, and pointless script in the existence of cinema? I try to be as positive as I can with media, but you can really tell that whoever wrote this script has never held a conversation with anyone other than the voice in their head. The point of any dialogue is to drive the plot forward, to give voice to conflict and resolution, and to create a counterpoint of personality to a character’s actions. The majority of Madame Web’s dialogue does none of this and is instead pointless filler. And half the conversations that do take place are immediately discarded because they exist in a tentative future that doesn’t come through, thereby once again making the dialogue meaningless. All of this is made so much worse by the terrible acting. Already dry dialogue is made harder to listen to by monotonous delivery, while the body language is completely stagnant and everyone’s facial expressions seem perpetually set in stone. Of the maybe three action scenes that exist in this movie, none of them have any dynamic or visually pleasing choreography. I mean, how bad do you have to be to make a fight scene boring, let alone three?

And this brings us to the plot of the movie. Madame Web, despite its incomprehensible failure to even exist properly, is a superhero action movie. Someone must have missed the memo, though, because there is a severe lack of action. Yes, there are approximately three fight scenes, but none of them are at all high stakes. Any issue that pops up is miraculously reversed thanks to Cassie Webb’s ability to see into the future. Nothing bad ever happens; nothing truly frightens or hinders the characters; and therefore, nothing excites the viewers. 

And can I just say, Cassie Webb is the epitome of clairvoyance done wrong. It’s a deus ex machina used at every opportunity, making it lack any impact 20 minutes into the movie. For all that Cassie seems to struggle with regarding her lack of control, her clairvoyance conveniently kicks in at the perfect time, provides the perfect solution, and essentially kills off any opportunity for character growth. Not only that, but it makes Cassie’s new mastery of her powers even more anti-climactic than they already are. 

Cassie herself is your typical aloof and emotionally distant strong female hero who needs to be shown the power of love exists to lose her emotional constipation and suddenly turn into prime mother material. Worse than Cassie, though, is our antagonist. This guy provides no actual reason—forget a justifiable one—for why he wants the spider. He just does. But that’s not even the issue here. No, the issue is that this nearly two-hour movie revolves around the plot point that no one in a crowded public space noticed the large guy in a weird costume attacking three teenagers in front of the police. What should have been a 25-minute affair turned into a movie that canonically lasted three whole days because reality stopped functioning for a whole scene. If your entire plot hinges on a plot hole so large you could fit a city into it, you know you’ve messed up.

All of this is not even taking into consideration how absolutely non-compliant this movie is to any comic featuring Madame Web ever in existence. But if I started on that, this article would turn into a thesis paper. The long and short of it is Madame Web is exactly as bad as you think it is, and really not worth the watch at all. If you want some character content, hit up fanfiction instead. Your brain will thank you for it.


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