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Madame Web Movie Review

Somewhere lost within the jungles of S.J. Clarkson’s strangely miss-aimed superhero adaption is an idea about the web of life, how it catches people despite themselves and binds them together. Saying that is what Madame Web is about would be overly generous to the finished film.

It’s the kind of movie destined for repeat 10 p.m. viewings on TNT or Netflix: a product of talented professionals who have gathered together to create something empty and disposable. Built around the supporting mythology or a central character it cannot name, Madame Web is left to try and build up a group with little central identity with whom it could do anything but ultimately does nothing.

Madame Web Movie Review

There’s a hope up front that it could at least be entertainingly insane as it dives into the Amazon where scientist Constance Webb (Kerry Bishé) and her helper Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim) search spider webs for a mysterious super spider, throwing around the word ‘peptide’ liberally and talking about supercharging cell structure before being abducted by strange web covered spider people descending from the trees.

At least, I think that’s what happens. But Mauro Fiore’s (Avatar) camera whips past its subjects and spins around as soon as something amazing happens, and Leigh Boyd cuts it up into short pieces with smeared highlights and wooshing sound effects: the standard procedure when the filmmakers don’t want to be clear about what is happening either because they think it won’t hold up or is silly or both.

It could be that everyone is attempting to ape the milieu of the early 2000s that Madame Web is set in when action and horror journeymen tested how quickly they could cut and how briefly they could show an image and still have information flow. In a lot of ways, Madame Web is a refuge of that style, escaped to the modern day but – like Cassandra herself – not fully present in it.

Having survived her strange Amazon birth, Cassandra has grown to be an EMT in New York City, paradoxically spending her time saving lives while refusing to engage in life herself, self-protection against potentially being abandoned again.

When a near-death experience opens up some latent abilities, Cassandra begins seeing visions of the future, including a trio of young women being attacked and killed by a strange man in a spider-like costume who climbs on walls and is super strong. Against her own nature, Cassandra saves the young women but, beyond the initial heroism, is unsure of what else to do.

Her movie has the same dilemma. As wonderfully bonkers as the central conceit is, Madame Web spends most of its time running from it, trying to hide its superhero/fantasy roots and re-iterate itself as a grounded origin story. Which isn’t to say there isn’t plenty of silliness.

Madame Web Movie Review

What Cassandra can do is entirely dependent on what the plot needs at any one moment. Can she see the future before it happens and then try and change what she has seen? Sure. Can she relive past events from before her birth in order to understand relevant back story? Why not.

Can she have psychic conversations with Ezekiel while sleeping in a motel? Yep. There is no consistency from one moment to the next, just an endpoint that must be reached no matter what.

But that’s about all. Ezekiel’s spider-imbued powers have also given him dreams of the future, in his case, the ability to see his own death at the hands of the three teenagers he hunts, grown to costumed spider-women and hunting Ezekiel down for some reason. It’s a wonderfully bizarre hint of what Madame Web could have been, but the film will only hint at it and spend the rest of its time running from it faster than Cassandra from the thanks of a heart attack victim.

The result is not aggressively stupid like Argylle or wonderfully stupid like The Beekeeper; it’s just listless. No one wants to go too far out on a limb or focus on the inherent ridiculousness of the story being told for that.

Instead, the cinematographer of Avatar is left putting everything in as much shadow as possible while the costume designer of The Lord of the Rings looks for various sweaters and jackets that match the color scheme and pattern of the heroines’ future outfits.

If this were the 2003 the film is set in, it would not be remarkable one way or the other. It would be completely par for the course for these kinds of movies at that point in time. But time has moved on. Talking raccoons befriend tries, and rock monsters attack dragons; there’s no benefit in being coy. Madame Web may be able to see the future, but she is stuck in the past.


Sony PicturesMadame Web opens in theaters on Wednesday, February 14, 2024. The film is rated PG-13 for violence/action and language.