Madame Web movie poster

Madame Web

In theaters February 14, 2024

Rated

,

117 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , ,

Four people worked on the screenplay for Madame Web (2024) and every one of them should be ashamed. It wants to bill itself as a psychological thriller with action and adventure, but it feels like the longest commercial for medication that helps you remember where you put your keys.

It’s difficult to imagine someone not sitting down after drinking heavily and saying, “how can we maintain a connection to Spider-Man without actually saying ‘Spider-Man’?” and other drunk people threw out a bunch of ideas after skimming a Wikipedia article and consulting a dirty sock, and voila, a germ of a parasite of an idea formed and Madame Web was born.

In deepest darkest Peru, Constance Web (Kirby Bishe) searches in vain for a rare spider whose venomous properties could be the key to solving disease forever. She has selfish ulterior motives for finding and potentially wiping out a species of arachnid for an untested chemical property that is literal years away from being tested in humans, while risking disease and permanent injury to her unborn child, but that’s a flashback for another time. Her guide or sherpa or assistant or himbo tagging along for the malaria, Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahuim), double-crosses her and steals her prize. Constance is mortally injured but her child is saved by a secret tribe of spider people, with the promise that the child will return to the hidden jungle when she’s ready to learn the truth.

I can think of no bigger “Screw you, Colonizer” than making a child work for answers to questions she doesn’t know she’s supposed to ask.

Thirty years later in 2003, Cassie is a paramedic with the social skills of a jutting tree root. She was raised in the foster system and holds a grudge against her mother for having the audacity to die in a forest. Cassie is getting flashes of déjà vu and visions of terrible events to come but lacks the self-awareness or common sense the Good Lord gave a box of hair to do anything about it. Through poor judgement and basic incompetency, she finds herself in charge of three impulsive and unattended teenagers (Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, Isabela Merced) and must keep them alive by abandoning them in a forest, abandoning them at a motel, and ditching them with a friend so she can do some research, which involve going through her mother’s 30-year old research things and looking thoughtful. Then she does a turn and burn to deepest darkest Peru – last minute on a paramedic’s salary – matching 30-year-old photographs to the ever-changing wilderness to get the mystical answers she seeks.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel Sims has somehow become very wealthy, but frankly isn’t any smarter. He has also acquired “spider-person” powers like strength and walking on ceilings from the spider he stole from Constance. How? No one has time for villainous origin stories when we have an entire hero’s origin story to screw up. He also sees his own future death at the hands of three women in spider costumes. He sets out to stop these women now (yet, in their past) by using advanced CTV technology. How this knowledge is obtained using a stolen NSA key card with the weakest system password any 12-year-old could have hacked isn’t mentioned because those are details clever screenwriters come up with.

Ignoring that taking action on a future event automatically changes how the future plays out, Madame Web plods along for nearly two hours. If you’re expecting to discover how the three spider women become spider women with extra legs, the power of flight, and electrical webs, this movie isn’t it.

Madame Web is not a movie anyone deserves, and Sony slipped this to reviewers mere hours before its premiere. It’s the sort of passive hand off that’s not a sign of great confidence.

Dakota Johnson, known best for some of the most lackluster “erotic” scenes ever committed to film from fan fiction, doesn’t just sleepwalk through Madame Web, she’s in a vegetative state letting the action happen all around her. When her character is feeling motivated, it’s only to run – run to the car, run to the ambulance, run through the warehouse, all to be just a bit too late to be effective. The choices Cassie Webb makes barely serve her reckless behavior as a paramedic, but we’re supposed to believe that from this mess of a human will be reborn as the great mutant pre-cog, Madame Web. No, we won’t, thanks.

Madame Web force feeds the kind of mid-century morality that says single women will prove their worthiness to society if they refuse to get married and have children, see The Sentinel (1977). In this case, Cassie ends up sacrificing fundamental pieces of herself to become dependent upon the next generation of Spider People (her “children”). This plot twist to bring the movie in line with comic canon completely ignores the previous 110 minutes, while also ignoring the entire set up of the film. If you allow yourself to get angry now, you can save yourself the price of a movie ticket and the gas.

Since we’re at it, let’s talk about the music. If you’re going to set a movie in 2003, maybe have music released in 2003. That’s what made other loud action movies like Bumblebee (2018) so much fun, by using relatable, identifiable music from the era. There are six pop tunes in Madame Web: “Dreams” by The Cranberries (1992), “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes (1993), “Bitch” by Meredith Brooks (1997), “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany (1997), “Scandalous” by Mis-Teeq (not released in the US until 2004), and “Toxic” by Britney Spears (2004). I can pull the Billboard top 100 for 2003 and blindly pick more appropriate songs like “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence or “Miss Independent” by Kelly Clarkston. Like everything else, it appears not even the barest effort was exerted for the music, and since music sets the tone for scenes, all of it felt off and awkward.

Finally, I want every single one of you to apologize to The Marvels (2023), because despite the pile-on due to the cast, the director and the screenwriter (all women), it was an enjoyable 105 minutes and told a complete story. Not Madame Web, though, and because it didn’t tell a complete story, there is the implied threat of future movies. It’s disrespectful.

Don’t bother sticking around through the credits because you’re not getting an apology for what you just watched.

Madame Web is rated PG-13 for mild swears, lots of spiders, many instances of the bird, explosions, truck accidents, ambulance accidents, people falling, people getting poisoned, childbirth, and more spiders.

Please be mindful there are sequences of flashing lights which may trigger those sensitive to seizures.

Madame Web is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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