Arts and Entertainment

Madame Web: It’s Morbin’ Time

Though Madame Web is a bleak representation of the future of superhero media, it revels in its mediocrity to become hilariously entertaining.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Ori Mermelstein

While my character in the movie may be able to see the future, I also can. And I know what the future brings. I know, when you see Madame Web, you’re gonna love it. In fact… I think you’re gonna see it twice,” Dakota Johnson, the star of Madame Web (2024), halfheartedly predicts with an unfaltering grin as her eyes pierce through the camera, as if she knows viewers will love hating this moviegoing experience. Directed by S.J. Clarkson and written by Morbius (2022) screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, Madame Web joins Sony’s awkward lineup of Marvel-inspired films that AI could only dream of spitting out. Since Sony’s 2015 deal with Marvel to split the film rights to the beloved Spider-Man, they’ve released three live-action comic-book films: two Venom (2018, 2021) movies and Morbius (2022). This attempt at emulating the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been underwhelming—Morbius became a laughingstock and internet meme, while the Venom franchise was panned by critics. Madame Web’s month-long press run has been bizarrely entertaining, but the actual film exceeds the absurdity of the press. Even the interviews featuring Johnson hilariously avoiding execrating this film don’t compare to the unbridled joy one gets from watching Madame Web. Picture a two-hour-long car-crash compilation, but guilt-free, in an empty theater, with a heart-attack-sized bag of popcorn. The film’s entertainment value lies in its unrestrained mediocrity, with weak scriptwriting, soulless dialogue, and an exasperatingly by-the-numbers plot. 

         The movie is set in early 2000s New York City, where protagonist Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson) works as a paramedic. After a near-death experience gives her clairvoyance, she must fight the villainous Ezekiel (Tahar Rahim) to save teenage girls Julia (Sydney Sweeney), Anya (Isabela Merced), and Mattie (Celeste O’Connor). Ezekiel is completely one-dimensional as a villain. He has no charm, no backstory, and an uninteresting motivation—wanting to kill the three girls because they’ll defeat him in ten years, a premonition that the film doesn’t ever explain. Rahim’s performance is comically bland, evocative of a wooden plank attempting to convey emotion. Johnson’s acting feels realistic, which comedically clashes with the rest of the cast’s quippy and over-expressive performances in imitation of a typical Marvel film. Johnson’s comedic timing is phenomenal in both purposely comedic scenes such as Webb failing to climb a wall, or when she is simply existing; throughout the film, Johnson looks perpetually baffled. 

Johnson does what she can with the dialogue, though it still falters to meaningfully captivate the audience. In a reversal of the “show not tell” mantra, much of the film’s dialogue consists of characters explaining the exact implications of the plot’s events, even when they are alone. For example, when Webb saves a pigeon and discovers that she can change the future, she unnecessarily repeats her revelation to herself. This hour of mind-numbing dialogue culminates in an attempted callback to Spider-Man mythos that ultimately falls flat. An elderly mentor figure (José María Yazpik) abruptly introduced before the third act tells Webb, “When you take on the responsibility, great power will come,” giving her the strength to save the day and win the final battle. 

The film’s fight scenes are decent, and though most are fakeouts (premonitions from Webb’s clairvoyance), the film isn’t deceptive about it. Some are unexpectedly gruesome, featuring stabbing, neck-snapping, and gnarly choke-outs. This is exemplified when Webb has a vision of Ezekiel attacking the girls in a diner. The diner becomes claustrophobic as the camera follows Ezekiel’s movement, his dominating figure clashing with the heroes in a frantic, high-adrenaline bout of action. The scene ends with Webb defeating Ezekiel by hilariously driving a car into him—and simultaneously into a building with civilians. 

There is no way one could receive spoilers for this film because it implies that there were any expectations. The trailers are purposefully misleading, showing the three girls clad in superhero attire, while none except Webb have superpowers. The final battle is nothing more than a high-budget advertisement, as the heroes fight amidst an obnoxiously large neon Pepsi-Cola sign. That being said, this perfect storm of terrible writing that rages around Johnson’s performance is an incredible sight to behold. Since online discourse has shredded this film apart, movie-goers may walk out of the theater pleasantly surprised. Sometimes, it’s okay to turn your brain off, and this unintentionally hilarious mess of a movie could potentially be more entertaining than its technically higher-quality contemporaries.