Don’t Do Dumb Stuff — Madame Web

William J Hammon
12 min readFeb 18, 2024

If you’ve had any kind of online presence over the last five days or so, you’ve probably seen that the reviews for Sony’s latest Spider-Man adjacent film, Madame Web, have been abysmal. Even the few positive critiques (23 out of 181 as of this writing, making for a woeful 13% average on Rotten Tomatoes) basically only say that it’s entertaining enough, and that Dakota Johnson does alright. Just about everything else struggled to find any silver lining in this pile of gossamer excrement

So certainly, my curiosity was piqued. Could this be the disaster to end all disasters? Have Sony, unbelievable as it may seem after the likes of The Emoji Movie, hit a new low? I definitely didn’t have high hopes after seeing the preview, which is why it was an easy choice for “ The Worst Trailer in the World… This Month,” and my sarcastic takedown has spiked in views in the past 72 hours. If you’re wondering why I would even see it if I thought it was going to be as bad as the critical press says it is, well, I’m making an effort to watch the films I mock this year, putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak. The most common negative reaction I get is that I should give these movies a chance, to which I normally think that the trailer was that chance. But if it puts a potential audience at ease to know that I’ll take one for the team after I playfully drag it to Hell, I’m happy to do it. Besides, I’ve been pleasantly surprised before. I got far more enjoyment out of The Beekeeper than I ever expected after it was one of three that shared the “ Worst Trailer “ title for January, so maybe this would as well.

After having seen this, I can say definitively that it is possible to have fun while watching Madame Web, maybe even likely. However, in order to get that result, I recommend you do what I presume every single person working on this film did when they arrived on set each day. Be sure to show up drunk and/or high, and surrender yourself to pure, unbridled stupidity. Because the critics are absolutely right. This is a trainwreck from beginning to end. Like Fallen Kingdom before it, not a single creative decision was the correct one. This is mind-numbing idiocy at the highest levels, and it doesn’t even qualify for “so-bad-it’s-good” status because this is a major studio continuing to botch their signature franchise, and they expect to make hundreds of millions off of it. You should not reward that kind of lazy hubris with your cash. However, when it comes out on streaming, if you want to make the most epic Bad Movie Night of the year, you will be able to because of how almost gloriously terrible this movie is. Do not let Sony off the hook by spending money on it, but do immerse yourself in it later on once they’ve taken their well-earned loss, because somehow, some way, this is even worse than Morbius.

The kindest thing the movie does is let you know as early as possible just how much of a shit show you’re in for. In the very first scene, which takes place in the Peruvian Amazon, a researcher named Constance Webb (Kerry Bishé) is wandering around the rainforest when her attention is drawn to a spiderweb in a tree. How does she find it, you ask? There’s a sound effect. Whether Constance hears it or not we can’t be sure, but the audience sure does. Her MacGuffin literally calls out to her through the foley department, and she turns to face the camera right behind it. We are not even a minute in.

Constance, very pregnant, is trying to find a rare spider that is almost never seen and no living specimen has ever been obtained, yet she’s sure that its venom has healing properties. Oh, and apparently there’s an entire tribe of uncontacted Spider-People living in the Amazon who worship them and get superhuman abilities from said venom. You can already feel your brain cells dying, can’t you? When she finds the bright, red CGI arachnid, her security guard, Ezekiel Simms (Tahar Rahim), immediately kills the entire team and demands that Constance turns the spider over to him. Any sane person, especially one who’s about to become a mother, would naturally think of their own self-preservation, as well as that of their unborn child, and hand it over. Constance decides to struggle and wrestle with Ezekiel until he shoots her too. There is no excuse for this. Even when you learn the jaw-droppingly inane reason she didn’t want to give it up later on (complete with one of the most hilarious misfires at an emotional climax you’ll ever see), it still makes no sense. Anyway, Ezekiel runs away with the bug jar, the Spider-Tribe swoops in and picks up Constance, swings through the trees in an effect that makes “Rubber Peter” from the first Tobey Maguire Spider-Man film look like goddamn Avatar, and brings her to their cave hideout, where Constance dies in childbirth, even after they use one of their own spiders to inject her with venom in an attempt to save her. A tribal mystic (José María Yazpik) is certain the baby will return one day to learn the truth. Well, if you say so, then.

We then flash forward to 2003, where Cassie (Johnson), is fully grown and works as a paramedic in New York, along with her friend and partner, Ben Parker (Adam Scott), whose sister Mary (Emma Roberts) is expecting herself. Oh yeah, we’re shoehorning Peter’s birth into this nonsense, and it’s just as cringeworthy as you think it is. Just wait until you see the baby shower scene.

During a rescue attempt in an overturned car, Cassie gets stuck inside as the vehicle falls into the river. Submerged, she sees what appears to be a strand of spider silk forming around her, and when she comes to — somehow on an elevated support underneath the bridge rather than on the bank — Ben informs her that her heart stopped and that she was temporarily dead, but is amazed at how quickly she’s recovering. When Cassie demands to go home without seeing a doctor, there’s a flash, and she’s repeating the same conversation that just took place some two minutes ago.

Elsewhere, a now middle-aged Ezekiel has recurring nightmares about being killed by three women with superpowers dressed in spider-themed outfits. If you go into this film expecting to see three different forms of Spider-Woman, congratulations, this fantasy is all you get! Nothing says “superhero movie” like not actually seeing the SUPERHEROES in your MOVIE! If you think that counts as a spoiler, well, I did say that Sony shouldn’t get your money. You have to know at least one clear-cut reason why. Anyway, Ezekiel has enriched himself based on the ability he got from the magical spider to see the future, and this vision of his own death haunts him to the point that he’s hacked into the NSA and hired a genius technician (Zosia Mamet) to hunt down his would-be murderers and take them out before they can do it to him. One would think that the fact that his future vision is so specific that he could become wealthy from it would mean that he could get more detail about these women, or a hint a bit closer to the present day, or that it would change as the situation changes, but that would require thought, and this film has none. He has no foresight apart from this dream, which is odd considering how heavily the trailer emphasized the idea that he could see the future. It never once comes into play.

Cassie continues to relive moments, which she calls seeing the future, even though as presented, it is literally not. We get no indication that she’s getting a premonition. She simply experiences something, then arbitrarily goes back in time and does it over again, only with slightly different results based on what she’s already been through. That’s not seeing the future, that’s time travel. While on a train, she witnesses Ezekiel killing three teenage girls (Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, and Celeste O’Connor), all of whom she previously encountered at random, and all of whom have parental issues where they feel abandoned and orphaned, JUST LIKE CASSIE! OH MY GOD, WHAT ARE THE ODDS?! No, seriously, one of them even asks what the odds are, meaning the movie is aware of just how asinine this proposition is, but they still went with it. Cassie quickly shepherds them off the train and steals a cab, absconding with them to prevent a triple homicide. With this review’s headline command, Cassie leaves them in the woods, hoping to find answers, even traveling to Peru (JUST LIKE THE GUY SAID SHE WOULD!), while Ezekiel, clad in an imitation Black Suit Spidey outfit, continues his pursuit.

To list every instance of irrational lunacy in this picture would be to waste hours of my life in addition to the two that I already have, and to rob you of the potential euphoria of witnessing this garbage for yourself, but I’ll give you a few lowlights:

  • Sweeney’s character (her name literally does not matter, as all three girls are completely interchangeable in terms of development and plot utility), incredulous as to what is happening, wonders aloud why anyone would want to kill them. “We’re just teenagers,” she says. Yeah, no. Sydney Sweeney is 26, she just came off a movie where the only thing that matters is her sex appeal, and she’s dressed like a naughty Catholic school girl. When they’re in the woods, someone comments, “This is horror movie shit,” which instantly reminded me of Detroit Rock City, where the dudes see a girl hitchhiking, and one of them tells the driver not to pick her up because “they make scary movies that start out like that,” to which his stoner bro replies, “But they make porno movies that start out like that, too.” When you make me think of that, you’ve failed.
  • An entire action sequence is set in a diner to Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” including a bad ending and a good one where Cassie saves the day because the bad one was her (not) seeing the future. Both versions are edited with absolutely no accounting for the passage of distance and time, to the point where the key moments happen at different points in the track in different versions. Never mind that the song is terrible and is only included because the filmmakers think “Toxic” and “Venom” is a cute link, it was released as a single in 2004, a year after this movie is set. Why not just set it in 2004? What specifically about 2003 is meaningful that you’d set the movie then? Was any research done at all?
  • The fight in said diner is instigated by a customer recognizing the girls. When Cassie gets them off the train, it’s apparently a misunderstanding where the authorities — despite several of them being killed by Ezekiel in hilarious fashion — think Cassie kidnapped them. The man in the restaurant is reading a newspaper article about the kidnapping, calling 9–1–1 when he sees the girls. This is all in the same day, mind you, so it’s impossible that there’d be a newspaper article about it. A full day later, I sincerely hope I hallucinated that.
  • Cassie gives the girls instruction on CPR and chest compressions, but she does it wrong, and the camera is so awkwardly positioned that it looks like the girls are giving awkward hand jobs.
  • There’s so much Pepsi product placement that you’d think this was a feature-length commercial.
  • The sight of Dakota Johnson trying to pull off a Professor X is the funniest thing I’ve seen in years.
  • Cassie watches an old film version of A Christmas Carol (I want to say the 1951 version with Alastair Sim as Scrooge), and she actually reacts by saying, “Sorry, Scrooge, but nothing ever changes.” Oh yeah, because that’s the point of the story!
  • Literally everyone in New York City is an asshole, apparently, because no one gets out of the way of an ambulance.
  • Cassie being a paramedic in a post-9/11 New York has no bearing on the plot.
  • In Peru (so fake it looks like it was filmed in an unoccupied section of public park), Cassie finds the site where her mother died based on a comparison with a photograph of a tree and a river, because there’s no way a tree could have been felled by the elements IN THE RAINFOREST in the span of 30 years.

All that is but a fraction of the parade of shite that this movie brings to you unironically, as if it’s going to blow your mind and redefine the comic book adaptation. Instead, it’s a relentless bombardment of brain death, made only worse by the shoddy effects, hyperactive and harebrained editing, ADR voice-overs that in no way match the lip flaps or the on-set audio mix, and acting by the cast across the board that’s so wooden you could build a log cabin out of the line readings.

And of course, we can’t forget Cassie’s all-too convenient power, which again, is not the ability to see the future, but to live out a series of events and then randomly go back in time and try it over. Even if it wasn’t just the world’s laziest form of plot contrivance to pad out the runtime, it takes some big brass ones to make a movie this bad and then think to yourself, Hey, why don’t we make the viewers watch the same scene two or three times in a row! I’m genuinely impressed at the incompetence.

There is not a single thing that this movie gets right. The characters aren’t even one-note, and they’re performed with all the skill and commitment of Jeffrey Dahmer at a salad bar. The blunt force trauma of the feminist messaging is utterly misplaced because none of these girls has any ideas or distinguishing features other than a penchant for walking straight into danger they know is out there. The dialogue is so insipid that I actually thought for a second that maybe we should just let the machines take over. I’d say I expected more from this main writing duo (Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless), but as the interwebs have pointed out, their output to date has consisted of Dracula Untold (25% on RT), The Last Witch Hunter (18%), Gods of Egypt (14%), Power Rangers (51%, their creative peak), and Morbius (15%), so really I should have expected better of Sony not to hire them in the first place, especially after they footed the bill for their last excursion into the Razzie Hall of Shame. This is completely irredeemable.

And yet, I and everyone else in that sparsely-populated theatre last night had a good time. There’s something about the collective experience of watching the credibility of a dozen ostensibly talented professionals disintegrate in real time that’s oddly fascinating. I’d compare this to something like The Room in terms of horrible moviemaking, but at least in the case of that cult classic, it was a vanity project by a man who didn’t know any better which became its own form of unintentional genius. This was a major studio project, an early tentpole release, filled to the brim with notes from executives who only see dollar signs when things go right and only search for scapegoats to blame when they don’t, because God forbid they take any responsibility for their own mistakes (and with this property especially, the fact that this moral is so clumsily hammered in and yet so unceremoniously defenestrated in practice staggers me). That realization seemed to dawn on everyone in the auditorium as we watched. For the first several minutes there were audible groans at every colossal misstep, and in the lobby afterwards, everyone commiserating agreed that they would tell their friends and family not to fork over actual money to witness it, because the powers that be who made this, from the Sony suits, to director S. J. Clarkson, all the way down to the caterers, can not be allowed to get away with any kind of success off of what will almost certainly be the worst movie of the year by a considerable margin.

But once everyone realized that the only way to enjoy this was to treat it like the joke it was, the oxygen started to fill the room again. By the end, everyone was laughing. I guarantee you that was not the intent, but that was the result, a joint catharsis where all the nerds got to laugh at their corporate bully for humiliating itself on a global scale. If you do decide to brave this, keep that in mind, and it won’t be painful.

Grade: F

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What’s the worst superhero movie you’ve ever seen? Why the hell does Ezekiel even HAVE a Spidey Suit? Let me know! And remember, you can follow me on Twitter (fuck “X”) and YouTube for even more content!

Originally published at http://actuallypaid.com on February 18, 2024.

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William J Hammon

All content is from the blog, “I Actually Paid to See This,” available at actuallypaid.com