Film Review – Madame Web

Madame Web

Madame Web

Madame Web (2024) exists in one of those weird places where it is so silly, so ridiculous, and so outrageously inane that it’s almost worth seeing for the sheer calamity of it all. Some may see that as a positive. If there’s one criticism that has remained constant for superhero films (particularly the Marvel/Disney ones), it’s that they have increasingly felt factory produced. More and more, they lack personality. You can’t really say the same about this. As a Sony production, it does contain tons of identifiable traits – but not in the way it was possibly intended. This is not a good movie. In fact, it might be one of the worst comic book blockbusters of recent memory. But hey, it’s better to be remembered than forgotten, right?

In style, tone, and execution, this feels like a relic of the past. Back before CGI and special effects made anything possible, superhero films had to work around obstacles to make us believe that people could fly, leap tall buildings, or shoot laser beams out of their eyes. Sure, sometimes you’ll get a legitimate hit like Superman (1978). Other times, you’ll end up with something campy like Captain America (1990). Something tells me that deep down, Madame Web wanted to be the latter. Director S.J. Clarkson (who also co-writes with Matt SazamaBurk Sharpless, and Claire Parker) inject little hints – whether it be a line of dialogue, camera move, or edit – that makes me wonder if this was meant to be more tongue-in-cheek. At least that’s what I’m hoping. If this was always supposed to be a straightforward origin story, then it fails on all counts.


Visually, Clarkson’s direction (in coordination with Mauro Fiore’s cinematography) incorporates dramatic camera moves that are reminiscent of music videos. The frame spins and twirls in exaggerated angles, sometimes going completely upside down. Flashing lights and hyperactive cutting swing us back and forth in time and place. For a story that heavily features a shifting timeline, this approach makes sense. But when it comes to the action, the disorienting style takes away from the cohesiveness. We can’t really tell what is going on, it’s all a barrage of images hurtling at us with little sense of rhythm. The biggest victim in all of this might be the pacing. Because the narrative barrels forward without ever letting us catch our bearings, it feels like it is stuck in the first act. There is a notion that everything we see is a set up for something else, but there’s no payoff to satisfy our suspicions.

The writing does little to help things along. The character work is flat and uninteresting, and in some cases, completely absent. We learn that Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson) is a NYC paramedic who lost her mother in childbirth. What she doesn’t realize is that her mother was studying a special breed of spiders in Peru at the time (why a nine-month pregnant woman would be deep in the Amazon to begin with is anyone’s guess). As fate would have it, one of these spiders bit Cassandra’s mother, thus endowing the yet-to-be-born Cassandra with the power of clairvoyance. She can see into the future and can visualize the results (and consequences) of choices made in the present. This gift, unfortunately, comes with a set a problems. Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim) – who worked with Cassandra’s mother back then – has also been granted this ability. For reasons I will not describe, Ezekiel has become fixated on killing three young women – Julia (Sydney Sweeney), Mattie (Celeste O’Connor) and Anya (Isabela Merced) – and won’t let anything stand in his way, including Cassandra.

Whew, that’s a lot of ground to cover, isn’t it? Essentially, the plot takes on a similar structure as The Terminator (1984), in which Cassandra must protect three lives – all of whom play an important role in the future – from a near unstoppable force. And that’s about it. I wish I could say there was more to it than that, but the film operates strictly on the surface. We don’t learn much of anyone beyond basic attributes. In some instances, their actions defy logic altogether. When Cassandra tells the three women to lay low and not draw attention to themselves, they respond by going to a diner, meeting a group of boys, and dancing on a table to Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” I understand this is supposed to be set in the early 2000s, but was there no other way of showing that? If you were trying to get away from a killer, would your first inclination be to dance on a table for everyone to see? 


God bless Dakota Johnson. She is a talented actor who – in the right project – can deliver a performance of warmth and authenticity (see her work in The Peanut Butter FalconThe Lost Daughter, and Cha Cha Real Smooth as prime examples). As Cassandra Webb, she adds a dash of sarcastic wit that makes the character more interesting than it should be. There has been lots of rumors and speculation over Johnson’s involvement with the film, the fact that she (as of this writing) has not seen it yet, and her “curious” interviews in the promotional campaign leading up to its release. It’s almost as if she can see the writing on the wall, and instead of taking things seriously is out there having as much fun as she can. We see it in her performance as well. Even though the movie has a lot of speed bumps, Johnson at least appears to be enjoying the chaos.

Madame Web might appeal to those with a morbid sense of curiosity – just to see what all the hubbub is about. If you’re one of those people, then by all means watch it and enjoy. But for those looking for a superhero movie with good action, well developed characters, and an engaging story, then you are in the wrong place. I’m a firm believer that to know what a good movie is, one needs to know what a bad one is as well. I think we all know where this one lands.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

You can reach Allen via email or Twitter

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