I’m going to admit that I went into watching Sony Pictures’ Madame Web—based on the Marvel Comics character from the Spider-Man universe—with a skeptical eye and less-than-high expectations. The press leading up to the theatrical release was less-than-kind and the plot synopsis was on the disappointing side. There’s an expectation with these comics-to-film adaptations that there’ll be narrative choices and adjustments from the source material to fit the needs and confines of the silver screen. However, some of the information leaked indicated characters such as the titular hero, the film’s antagonist Ezekiel, and the future Spider-Women veered so far from their four-colored roots to such a degree that they might as well be brand-new characters.

Still, that’s part of the reason that when I was given the offer of a Blu-ray copy of Madame Web for review, I took the opportunity. I’m a soft-sell on checking out comic book movies, regardless of the rumors and negative press. Maybe I would have a fun funny-book film experience.



Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Directed by S.J. Clarkson, Madame Web stars Dakota Johnson as Cassandra “Cassie” Webb, who gains precognition powers, powers connected to a spider her mother found while doing research in Peru. Cassie’s mother’s fellow researcher Ezekiel Sims, played by Tahar Rahim, betrays the rest of the research team, leaving her mother dead and Ezekiel in possession of the spider. 30 years later, Cassie, now a paramedic, gains the aforementioned clairvoyant powers, eventually using them to protect three potential future spider-powered heroes, played by Sydney Sweeney, Isabel Merced, and Celeste O’Connor. The trio are being stalked by Ezekiel, who has also gained precognition abilities that showed him possible futures in which one of the three kill him.

The Madame Web of the comics is a fun, sometimes multi-layered character and would be a perfect addition as a co-star or a supporting character in a Spider-Man film somewhere down the line. But really, no one was asking for a Madame Web film—or a Morbius movie or a Kraven the Hunter vehicle, for that matter. That’s not to say that taking a comic character with limited familiarity by the general public can’t yield positive reviews and box office success. The positive receptions for Ant-Man, Black Widow, and Black Widow are testaments to that.



But the key to those movies’ successes are combinations of great direction, tight scripts, clear visions, and enthusiastic actors. And Madame Web fails on every point in some form or fashion. Based on the Blu-ray’s special features and press interviews, Clarkson is clearly a fan of the comics and this movie seemed to be one that she wanted to make. However, it’s unclear whether the failure of the film was from possible studio interference or from the screenplay and story, which feels so slapped together you can still smell the glue drying. Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless and Claire Parker & S.J. Clarkson wrote the screenplay, with Kerem Sanga, Sazama, and Sharpless given story credits, and additional literary material contributed by Chris Bremner. Sazama and Sharpless are responsible for writing 2022’s Morbius film, which explains a lot, given the mixed bag that movie was. The frustrating part is that Sony has shown that it can make a good Marvel film, from the recent Spider-Man films and even the first Venom, a film that wasn’t really my taste but I think was mostly competently made.

All of this feels like dog-piling and kind of mean. I legitimately don’t think most people set out to make a bad movie (with “bad” being somewhat subjective). But boyo, Madame Web was a slog to watch, and it feels like it might have been a slog for the actors to perform in. Johnson famously was alternately snarky and disinterested during press junkets for the film’s publicity, to the point that it rankled Sony’s feathers. There are hints of that in Johnson’s line delivery in the movie proper as well, because whether it’s the fault of the script or her acting choices, Cassie never feels like an actual human character delivering actual human emotions. She protects the three spider-folk, but I don’t know why she does other than “it’s the right thing to do” and that the screenplay necessitates it to drive the plot.


The one time you get to see the Spider-Women in costume… a tease for a movie that’s certain not to happen.


Really, the only actors who seem like they’re having a good time are Sweeney, Merced, and O’Connor, which a is problem for a movie called Madame Web. Johnson seems excited for the film in comments on the special features, but those comments feel more like a contractual obligation than anything else. And how do you waste Adam Scott, who plays Ben Parker—the man who would become Peter Parker’s uncle? We get one deleted scene with Scott, which only amounts to an alternate take. It’s baffling. The film is about Web and the other spider-powered people, true, but when you have a magnetic personality like Scott at your disposal, use him, for Pete’s sake (no pun intended).

[Cards on the table and a disclosure: I typically don’t publish reviews of pieces media that I don’t enjoy. That’s just not my jam and I feel there are plenty of other writers who are more adept at that sort of film criticism. However, since I did request a copy of Madame Web for review, there is a sense of obligation that I feel to give my thoughts on the movie, at the very least.]

All of this is to say that, as a comic book movie fan, a Spider-Man fan, and a film fan in general, I can’t really recommend Madame Web, which is a shame because any of these Spidey spin-off installments could be a fun watch, if nothing else.

Madame Web is on sale now on 4K Ultra, Blu-ray, and DVD.

From the official movie description:

“Meanwhile, in another universe…” In a switch from the typical genre, Madame Web tells the standalone origin story of one of Marvel publishing’s most enigmatic heroines. The suspense-driven thriller stars Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb, a paramedic in Manhattan who may have clairvoyant abilities. Forced to confront revelations about her past, she forges a relationship with three young women destined for powerful futures…if they can all survive a deadly present.