Madame Web (2024) Movie Review: The current state of the moviegoing landscape—in particular, the superhero genre—is arguably at its worst point in decades, a diagnosis mainly attributable to the inability of Hollywood studios to see past the short-term dollar signs stamped onto name-brand nostalgia. Skeptics tend to point to the state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe right now as the epitome of this low point, but the truth is that this chasm has been dug by Disney and their ilk consistently over a number of years now, slowly feeding viewers that nostalgic poison until it became all these companies had left to fall back on, subjecting us to an endless string of tired rehashes of everything from “Ghostbusters” to “The Exorcist.”

A film like “Madame Web,” then, makes for a unique case study in that it provides a specific jolt of nostalgia precisely for those critics who find themselves drained by the endless drudge of name-brand bait: this is a film for those of us yearning for the era where superhero movies threw every foolish idea at the wall because they still had no idea what they were supposed to be.

Given the fact that the film was greenlit as a spin-off to Sony’s ever-lucrative “Spider-Man” cash cow, one can initially assess “Madame Web” as yet another groan-inducing attempt to test how much leeway audiences are willing to give a film just because “In Association With Marvel” appears prominently in the trailer. But when first-time director S.J. Clarkson finally got her hands on the steering wheel, it was clear enough that we were headed for a full-on crash rather than a lazy cruise on autopilot, and in the end, the film is all the better served for being disastrously inept than it would have been in the other likely case: maddeningly lazy and entirely anonymous in a lineup alongside its contemporaries.

Dakota Johnson stars as Cassandra Webb (no joke I can make would be funnier than how shamelessly they run with that), a New York paramedic born with hidden powers bestowed upon her by the venom of a rare spider that bit her incredibly pregnant mother, mortally wounded just moments earlier at the hands of Ezekiel (Tahar Rahim). After an accident on the job, these dormant abilities awaken and manifest in Cassandra’s ability to see the immediate future in short bursts.

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This power leads her to three teenage girls (Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, and Isabela Merced) who find themselves the target of Ezekiel; endowed with a more overt, Spider-Man-adjacent set of abilities, Ezekiel intends to kill these girls as he has had a recurring vision that they will be the ones to someday kill him. Does that sound sufficiently idiotic? Good, then climb aboard!

Madame Web (2024) Movie Review
Dakota Johnson in “Madame Web” (2024)

If the endless string of “How did we get here?” plot developments that populate “Madame Web” don’t convince you of its absolute inability to foster a coherent narrative—to untangle its web, if you will—then the amazingly abysmal editing will surely bring you to one conclusion: none of it matters, because everyone involved in this mess stopped caring the moment they realized their contract was airtight. Johnson seems to have already thrown in the towel on the press circuit as far as acknowledging that “Madame Web” is simply a meme-of-the-week just waiting to be christened, but her performance here plays off her now-famous monotone delivery to induce the only laughs in the film that seem to have been intentionally written as such.

To see Johnson, who rose to prominence through the trashy “Fifty Shades of Grey,” come out on top in an equally incompetent superhero movie is all the more impressive when compared to Rahim, an actor whose star rose in the realm of European art-house films only to deliver by far this film’s worst contribution. Most of the cast here is, at worst, bland and unconvincing, but Rahim excels through the sheer magnitude of his obviously (hopefully) dubbed Tommy Wiseau-level line delivery; if you’d never seen “A Prophet”—which may be a safe to bet for most of Madame Web’s intended audience—then you’d never believe this man has ever turned in a performance satisfying enough for a LifeCall commercial.

Returning briefly to that opening assessment on the current state of Hollywood, it is precisely this neutered status of the squeaky-clean blockbuster that has invoked strong reevaluations of the shabby action films of the 2000s as unsung auteurist masterpieces. And sure, if you watch “Transformers” or “Elektra” after marathoning nothing but “Justice League” and “No Way Home,” then the unapologetic incompetence of films with some level of noticeable human involvement may seem appetizing.

It’s doubtful that S.J. Clarkson’s horribly edited, blandly performed, and haphazardly written “Madame Web” would enjoy this same critical reappraisal in 20 years, but who knows? All that’s certain is that this trainwreck was never meant to survive in the annals of box office record-breakers but rather on the couches of drunken commentators excitedly tearing it to pieces. Does a nobler pursuit of artistic martyrdom exist?

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Madame Web (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
Madame Web (2024) Movie Cast: Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, Isabela Merced, Tahar Rahim, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts, Adam Scott
Madame Web (2024) Movie Genre: Action/Adventure, Runtime: 1h 57m
Where to watch Madame Web

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