Madame Web Review: An Irredeemable Garbage Fire

It’s not very often that a superhero movie is so bad that you agree with all those villains who want superheroes to cease to exist.

Look, we’ve seen bad superhero movies before. In 2022, Sony’s Spider-Man Universe gave us Morbius, which was an atrocity on every level. Two years later, they have managed to exceed every expectation that we have. And our expectations were low. Madame Web is unwatchable. There is no redeeming quality that could make this worth watching besides how laughably terrible it is. I’ve seen a lot of bad movies that people can make excuses for because they were low-budget and didn’t have the resources to be as good as they could be. This is an $80 million film using Marvel characters. There is no excuse for this.

I struggle to figure out how a movie like Madame Web got greenlit in the first place. How did nobody mention during the first table read that the dialogue is so poorly written that not even the most talented actor could sell it? How did nobody look at each scene and see how choppily edited everything is? How was this movie allowed to be released in theaters as is? It genuinely feels like they took the very first rough cut of a superhero movie and accidentally leaked the footage into theaters. I think this is the first time I’ve cringed so hard my soul left my body.

We’re gonna start from the top. Our movie opens with a woman who is nine months pregnant looking at spiders in the Amazonian jungle. It’s not the best idea for a pregnant woman to be in this environment, but Madame Web doesn’t have the best ideas. She holds a spider, but her colleague, Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), turns on her. He points a gun at her and demands the spider. Why does he want the spider so bad? We really only get one line about it. It’s not enough to get anyone in the audience to care about his goal or his motivation. He shoots the pregnant woman, but a tribe saves her baby, who grows up to be Cassie Webb (Dakota Johnson).

Cassie is a paramedic with a very confusing set of character traits. She’s a paramedic, so you would think we’d have scenes of her helping and caring for people to get us to like and trust her, right? Nope! However, we do get a scene where a kid thanks her for saving her life, but she not only has forgotten about the kid, but is very rude to the kid as she reluctantly accepts a drawing the kid made for her. How is this a defining action that can get us on Cassie’s side? We later get the sense that she is spiteful about the idea of families because she grew up alone in foster care. However, her portrayal registers as unlikable and painful to watch.

Throughout these scenes, we have a few red flags that key us into how horrendous this movie will be. First of all, the camerawork is frighteningly bad. During the dialogue scene between Cassie’s mom and Ezekiel, the camera makes very odd zooms during the shot. They look like very small crash zooms. They look like accidental zooms you see when watching documentary footage. Why does the camerawork for a very intense scene where a man is pointing a gun at a pregnant woman look like an episode of The Office? Furthermore, once we cut to the film’s setting in 2003 New York, we get tons of jokes that don’t land and dialogue that does not flow naturally in the slightest.

My next criticism is something that is inexcusable. The whole movie is unforgivable, but this is a major technical error. Nearly every single line that Ezekiel says in the movie is ADR. If you look at the way his lips move in nearly all his scenes, they don’t actually line up with the words we’re hearing. It looks like a foreign-language film dubbed in English. That’s how bad the ADR in this movie is. I don’t know what happened here. My best guess is they rewrote all of his dialogue in post-production and didn’t want to reshoot anything. But this is an $80 million movie. There is no excuse for having ADR this painfully obvious in a big-budget studio film. Especially because it doesn’t just happen once. There are at least ten moments where you’ll see his lips not matching his voice.

An early scene shows Cassie at a baby shower, where everyone has written fond memories of their parents on paper, and they’re reading it aloud. When they get to Cassie, they find she has submitted a blank piece of paper. When asked to elaborate, Cassie reveals her mom died in childbirth, and she grew up alone. This is the most awkward place to dump this exposition on not only the audience but also the other guests at the baby shower. Everyone was celebrating the mother and her baby, and Cassie managed to make the entire event dour by turning it into a pity party for herself. How are we supposed to like her as a person? How?

There’s dreadful dialogue throughout the entire film, including an ADR line where Cassie says she has to go watch American Idol. It seems like they threw that in to sell the 2003 setting. But pretty soon, Cassie discovers that she has the power to see into the future. There are moments where we’ll see an event occur, and then we cut back to a few minutes earlier and reveal it hasn’t happened yet. It’s a lot like the 2007 Nicolas Cage movie Next, where he plays a magician who can see into the future. That’s not a great film, but it executes the concept much better than Madame Web.

Let’s talk a little more about that dialogue. The expositional dialogue is extremely clunky. There are many moments where we see an event happen, and then a character states exactly what the audience just saw out loud. Why do we need that? I don’t know. There’s a lot of dialogue here that none of these actors can sell. The writing is bad, but so are the performances. Johnson is unwatchable in this movie. She’s been excellent in other films like The Peanut Butter Falcon and Cha Cha Real Smooth, but this is a charmless, bland performance. She barely displays any emotion. This is the type of performance we haven’t seen since Kristen Stewart in Twilight. She is not captivating enough of a performer to lead a movie like this. It’s like assigning emotions to a wall.

But let’s look at this supporting cast. We have a very talented group of actresses who are sprinting their way towards Hollywood stardom. Sydney Sweeney has made a lasting impression in Euphoria and, more recently, in the rom-com Anyone But You. Isabela Merced has consistently turned in strong work in Instant Family and Dora and the Lost City of Gold, and she’ll even be returning to the superhero genre in James Gunn’s Superman: Legacy. Celeste O’Connor is wonderful in Freaky and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. They’re excellent actresses. It takes truly special filmmakers to display this little of their talent. They’re awful in this movie, but they have nothing to work with. They have to read badly written, poorly directed dialogue, and they’re doing the best they can.

Let’s talk about the characters. What Madame Web manages to do with all of them is fascinating. After trying its damnedest to make you hate everything about our protagonist, the movie puts Cassie in charge of the three teenage girls whom Ezekiel is trying to kill. Her solution is to put them in a taxi, drive them out into the middle of the woods, and then leave them there with no food and water. She tells them she will come back for them, but of course, they don’t stay put. Meanwhile, a radio broadcast reveals that Cassie is now wanted by the police for allegedly kidnapping these three girls. This storyline is never resolved in the movie. It’s entirely forgotten about.

The idea they’re going for here is that Cassie never had a family growing up, and she finds family in these three teenage girls who she’s trying to protect. I get that. But the movie never slows down to have fun with them and give them all chemistry organically. These three teenage girls were all on a train, and Cassie saved them from Ezekiel. Cassie and the girls only manage to escape because Ezekiel spends all his time taking out the police officers when he could very easily just kill the girls he’s after. After being forced to stick together, these girls go to a nearby diner, and they all end up standing on top of a table and dancing to “Toxic” by Britney Spears. Who wrote this? Why is this how they’re supposed to build a bond? This is weird, and it is out of character for teenage girls in the middle of nowhere who just survived a murder attempt.

Later, we learn more about who these girls are. The exposition here is abysmal. The characters stand in a circle and take turns sharing their name and their relationship with their parents. They just stand around and verbally state their backstories to get us to care about them. It doesn’t work. Not only do we not see the backstories, but it doesn’t affect their actions or how they would perform in a life-or-death situation. More importantly, the backstories never get resolved! They don’t have character arcs. The backstories exist in one scene and are then thrown away and forgotten!

We then have our third act, where Cassie learns about herself. After years of a (largely offscreen) contempt for her mother, Cassie learns that her mother was supposedly kind and had noble reasons for wanting the spider. This revelation doesn’t work because the audience saw most of it in the first five minutes of the movie! Cassie’s emotional revelation is completely weightless. It does not work on a dramatic character level. It is atrocious. But soon enough, it is time for our big final act, where we have the big final showdown between the heroes and villains.

Superhero finales have been set against very memorable backdrops, especially the ones set in New York City. X-Men had the Statue of Liberty. Spider-Man had the Queensboro Bridge. But I think Madame Web’s setting takes the cake: a giant Pepsi-Cola sign.

Look, I know this Pepsi-Cola sign. I’m a New Yorker, and I’ve seen the sign before. Hell, I’ve even directed a short film under the very same sign. At no point in all my years of living here have I ever thought that this would be a great place for the climactic final battle in a Marvel superhero movie. The finale of this film looks less like a battle and more like a high-budget Pepsi-Cola commercial. Between this and the giant Calvin Klein billboard that Cassie runs a truck through, the product placement in Madame Web is off the charts. I have not seen anything this pathetic in a long time.

This is where we have to wonder how everything went so wrong. Whose fault is this? The writers? Two of the Madame Web writers are Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who have previously written cinematic disasters like Dracula Untold, The Last Witch Hunter, and Morbius. How have they managed to stay employed in Hollywood? Not a clue. What about the director? This is S. J. Clarkson’s feature directorial debut after decades of working in TV. I’m unfamiliar with her other work, but I’m amazed by what this film is. The dialogue scenes are directed very poorly, and the action sequences are dull. The train scene in this movie should have had so much tension that just isn’t there. The big, rousing finale is not big or rousing. It has some explosions. That’s it.

But let’s go back to Sony. Because I’m sure the writers and director did not have a lifelong dream to make a finale set against a giant Pepsi-Cola sign. It’s amazing how a studio can have the rights to these famous Marvel superheroes and do nothing with them. The Spider-Verse movies are major exceptions, but we’ve seen Sony’s terrible attempts at building giant Spider-Man universes in Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Rest assured, Madame Web is a new low in attempted superhero setups. The trailers were sure to show a few shots of Sweeney, Merced, and O’Connor in their Spider-Women suits. You’d think that this movie features some Spider-Women, right?

Wrong. There are no Spider-Women in this movie. Ezekiel has visions of the future, and in those visions, the three teenage girls are Spider-Women. But that does not happen in this movie. They don’t become the Spider-Women. It’s supposed to make you excited to see it happen in a sequel, but that is a cop-out that will never be resolved because this film is too bad to have a sequel. The Spider-Women suits have one minute of screen time in this movie. And we’re never gonna see them again. They only exist in the movie because of the villain’s visions.

Madame Web is one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies I’ve ever seen. The attempts to be inventive with the camerawork are dizzying, partially because of how poorly edited everything is. This is a new low for Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. It is one of the worst superhero movies ever made. The line delivery is comical. Nobody talks like a real person. The villain is forgettable and not captivating in the slightest. Rahim was outstanding in The Mauritanian, but like every other actor here, he has nothing to work with. This movie was not good enough for theaters, streaming, or your direct-to-DVD bargain bin. It made Morbius look like Citizen Kane. It dangles Spider-Man references at us like keys in front of a cat.

Also, Madame Web doesn’t even have a superhero suit. There’s no awesome suit-up because she’s just dressed like a regular person, even during the final battle. What kind of superhero movie is this?!

I took my Valentine’s Day date to see this movie with me. If she dumps me, I will completely understand.

SCORE: 1/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 1 equates to “Awful.”

ComingSoon doesn’t enjoy giving out an awful rating, and it’s generally reserved for video games that are broken or entertainment that is devoid of any redeeming qualities.

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