Movie Review: “Madame Web”


Madame Web movie review

Cinematic disasters shouldn’t be this boring. Directed by S.J. Clarkson, “Madame Web” is a collection of misfires and missteps, awkward dialogue, weightless action, shoehorned-in references—all told without any sense of urgency at all. The idea of a villain relentlessly pursuing his prey seems like it should be a pressing matter, but the film takes a week off to get lost in a glut of expository dialogue (the whole movie’s default dialogue mode). The actors do their best, but the script is leaden and there’s no real visual splendor to behold—not even in the ironic, “look how awkward/cheap/phony this is” way that viewers can get from good bad movies. There are funny lines here and there, both intentionally comedic and not, but while audiences may want to find themselves tangled up in the story, they’ll be left adrift without anything reeling them in.

Cassie Webb (Dakota Johnson) is a misanthropic, awkward EMT working in NYC in 2003. One day, while saving someone, she drowns and temporarily dies before being revived by her partner, Ben Parker (Adam Scott). Now Cassie gets glimpses of the possible future and is learning to navigate those visions when she happens upon a trio of teenagers (Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor) who have become the target of Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), a man with incredible spider super-powers connected to Cassie’s mom (who died in the Peruvian forest in the ‘70s searching for a very special spider). Now Cassie has to figure out what is going on and help protect the three women from this menace.

The cinematographer for “Madame Web” is Mauro Fiore, who previously was DP for “Avatar,” “The Island,” and “Training Day,” amongst many others. While the film is competently shot, there is no visual style to anything except rotating the camera occasionally to match Sims’ spider-y moves on ceilings, which is surprising given Fiore’s pedigree. But the usual engrossing imagery is absent here, washed out like so much of “Madame Web.” There are jokes but they mostly land flat. There are charismatic actors, but they aren’t given much to do or substantive characters to inhabit. Johnson fares the best out of anyone in this cast (except maybe Scott), as she is allowed to be a sarcastic, aloof, and overwhelmed person in a sea of craziness…but that interesting characterization is drained away as time rolls on, eventually leaving a stilted husk of a person offering empty line readings. There are a couple of scenes where the three teens are allowed to just play off each other, but those are cut short and even then they aren’t particularly successful at being clever or that entertaining. But still they had promise!

Director Clarkson has worked in the superhero genre before (on Marvel’s Netflix shows “Jessica Jones” and “The Defenders”), so should be well-versed in creating some dynamic scenes between interesting characters, or at least some sort of engaging action. Unfortunately, none of the fight scenes land with any sort of impact. It’s not because most of them are part of Cassie’s precognitive visions and therefore “don’t happen”—it’s because they are lifelessly executed and poorly edited without any sort of appealing nature to them. In general, fight scenes don’t have to be revolutionary to be interesting; they just have to have some visual flair or at least involve characters that we the audience are invested in. But seeing as how there’s no one in this film that feels like a real person or at least captivating enough to care about, all the action sequences and grandiose stunt set pieces fall horribly flat.

“Madame Web” is incredibly awkward as well. It belabors the point of foreshadowing that Ben’s sister-in-law, May Parker (Emma Roberts) is pregnant with someone (massive wink), but to what end? What is the point of tying it into Peter Parker (without ever saying that name) so much? That’s not a fun Easter Egg but a pathetic attempt at making the events of the movie somehow interesting by proxy. It’s not just that shoehorning in of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler that is awkward. Sims is dubbed pretty terribly (possibly by Rahim, but certainly in a lot of ADR) to the point of sounding like a ‘90s DTV action villain. Which should be fun…if it were a stylistic choice and not just something clunky. Sims’ assistant (Zosia Mamet) is given an inordinate amount of screentime (and terrible, cliched hacker lingo) that never really pays off in any way. And the dialogue is just constantly full of awkward exposition or some other weird phrasing that tries to sell themes of power (and spiders!) in off-putting ways that make it all feel wrong.

Comic book movies reinvigorated the post-credits scene— there’d be a little tease into the future, usually with something that seems awkward if thought about too long, but could be enticing enough to see what’s to come. Those scenes are rarely visually interesting, often peppered with some attempts at humor, and rely on audiences caring about what happened so as to be invested in what happens next. “Madame Web” doesn’t have any credits scenes because it is a post-credits scene writ large. And when ballooned up from three minutes to two hours, the strain is noticeable. Hollow jokes ring false, dialogue buckles underneath the burden of carrying that much plot and explanation, and there’s no arresting imagery to engross viewers. “Madame Web” isn’t the worst, but it’s lack of immediacy and heart make it a disastrous slog.


Starring: Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott, Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, Celeste O’Connor, Tahar Rahim, Emma Roberts, Zosia Mamet
Director: Matthew Vaughn

  • 3
  • User Ratings (0 Votes)

About Author