Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Photo: “Madame Web” Poster via IMDb

There are plenty of low-quality movies that get produced every year by filmmakers and Hollywood at large. Most of the time, audiences and critics can laugh at them and then go out to dinner, where they can exchange jokes at the bad movie’s expense. However, on occasion, a certain kind of bad movie comes along that leaves audiences and critics floored and dazed by just how horrendous, how jaw-droppingly terrible, the movie they just paid good money to see was. I cannot say whether the executives at Sony Pictures, or the cast and crew of “Madame Web” (2024), set out to make the greatest unintentional parody of the superhero sub-genre for the sake of a tax write-off, but they absolutely succeeded regardless! 

Plenty of critics and moviegoers have been gossiping for a while about just how hideous Sony Picture’s latest attempt to make its “Sony Spider-Man Universe,” a real thing, and it shows!  

“Madame Web,” directed by S.J. Clarkson in her first feature film, follows the tale of Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson), a dedicated-yet-solitary EMT living and working in New York City alongside her co-worker, Ben Parker (Adam Scott). One day, after a near brush with death, she develops superhuman clairvoyance that she initially brushes off. However, after witnessing a fellow EMT’s death in a vision and doing nothing to prevent it, she is confronted with the fact that her premonitions are indeed real. Meanwhile, Ezekiel Simms (Tahar Rahim), who killed Cassie’s mother in Peru in 1973 and stole a rare spider to give himself Spider-Man-like powers, experiences a vision of three women murdering him in the future. By chance, Cassie is also drawn to the same three women because of her own visions and sets out to save the three girls — Julia (Sydney Sweeney), Anya (Isabela Merced) and Mattie (Celeste O’Connor) — from Ezekiel’s murderous wrath. 

It’s the kind of set-up that feels like a mishmash of “Terminator” (1984) meets “Minority Report” (2002), added with a little bit of “Final Destination” (2000) sprinkled on top. However, despite the potential for a superhero thriller about a group of women trying to survive “evil Spider-Man,” the picture completely squanders its own potential, which is evident within the first 30 minutes of its runtime. Within those 30 minutes, the viewer is subjected to some of the worst ADR (automated dialogue replacement) ever included in a motion picture. For some contrived reason, almost all of Rahim’s lines were dubbed over in post-production, and the lines rarely ever match up with the actor’s lips. All this does is result in a borderline comical performance as the main antagonist of this movie, which reaches its zenith when Rahim’s character dons his knock-off Spider-Man costume. Speaking of comedy, the suit worn by Ezekiel, as well as the other Spider-Man costumes worn by the three girls in a vision, look as if the costume and prop department stopped caring not long after the production of “Madame Web” began.  

On the topic of performances, it becomes painfully obvious that the cast — including Dakota Johnson — wanted the production to be over as soon as possible to collect their paychecks. All throughout the film, the actors switch between histrionics and lifeless acting. However, audiences shouldn’t judge the cast too harshly, as not even the finest actors in the world could make a diamond out of the garbage script they were given. Garbage is the operative word, as according to a Variety Magazine article from January, “Johnson’s conspicuous jump from WME to CAA in November — just days after a baffling first trailer debuted — raised industry eyebrows, along with a razz in her recent ‘SNL’ monologue describing the film as ‘like if AI generated your boyfriend’s perfect movie.’” 

The editing and cinematography of “Madame Web” feels just as phoned-in as the acting, as there are multiple sequences and shots included in the movie that would make any self-respecting film editor or cinematographer cringe. The film employs an astonishing number of shaky-cam sequences that feel as if they are trying to hide the film’s abysmal choreography. At the same time, the movie’s editing is enough to give audiences whiplash, such as when Johnson’s character is rescuing somebody from a car accident, and again during the climax in an old fireworks factory.  

Lastly, the movie’s most egregious, or perhaps most hilarious, aspect of its design: the writing. It isn’t surprising that “Madame Web” turned out to be a farce considering it came from the writers of “Gods of Egypt” (2016) and “Morbius” (2022), the latter of which also tried to set up Sony’s own cinematic universe — despite that film, and “Madame Web,” not featuring Peter Parker. It’s hard to come up with a good script for a feature film when you have a studio like Sony Pictures breathing down your neck, so perhaps the blame isn’t squarely on the shoulders of screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless when the script includes lines like, “when you take on the responsibility, great power will come,” and “he was in the Amazon with my Mom when she was researching spiders right before she died,” a line only included in the trailer. Perhaps the fault lies more with Sony, as the Pepsi-Cola company must have cut a sponsorship deal with the studio that it crammed in as much product placement as possible.  

To call “Madame Web” a “bad movie” doesn’t describe it properly in the slightest. It feels like it was put together by a cast and crew with a gun to their heads so that Sony Pictures can justify holding onto the Spider-Man property. Or, perhaps the executives at the studio thought they could make this movie as a joke to parody superhero films in general. Or, because Sony Pictures wanted to make a movie so atrocious, they could use it as a tax write-off. Perhaps all three! 


Kelly Baker is an alumnus of West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

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