Madame Web review: like dropping a Golden Orb Weaver down your shirt

Her web connects everyone ... but for what purpose? Sony fumbles another Marvel property with Madame Web.

‘Show me the origin story of that one minor character in the Spider-Man canon who can see incoherent visions of the future!’ is a sentence at least one person might have said at some point in time. But surely not enough people have expressed this same sentiment to warrant Madame Web wall-crawling its way into cinemas this weekend.

Sloppy and confusing in its worst moments, and a giant ad for Pepsi in its best, Madame Web is a film that could have used a bit more incubation time before hatching into the already overcrowded family of Marvel comic adaptations.

Helmed by British TV director S.J. Clarkson, Madame Web tells the tale of Cassie Web (Dakota Johnson), a New York paramedic with a mysterious past. Cassie’s life takes a turn from ambulance-driving to prophecy bearing when she experiences a vision of three high school girls (Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced, and Celeste O’Connor) meeting their demise at the hands of a spider-like assailant (Tahar Rahim). These unwelcome visions set her on a quest to confront her identity and abilities, and delve into her family’s past to uncover the truth (like what was her mum doing researching spiders in the Amazon right before she died??).

To set up the origin story to the origin story, we open in the Peruvian Amazon. This sequence somehow showcases both incredibly wooden acting and some really goofy jungle spider costumes, while trying to get us to care about the protagonist and her relationship with rare, candy-coloured spiders that somehow see the future and also contain healing venom. The camera whip-pans, zooms, and Dutch-angles its way around the actors in a manner I can only describe as ‘trying to distract us from how bad everything is’.

Our protagonist, whom we eventually meet, is Cassandra Web, named after the two things this story is about: clairvoyance and spiders. If you think that’s too on-the-nose, just wait.

Adam Scott, an effortlessly likeable actor who you’ll either recognise from Parks and Rec or Severance, plays a young Uncle Ben – as in, the one that raises Peter Parker – whose presence in the film gets more and more ham-fisted as they try to tie in the story to the already well-known Spider-Man lore. A simpler, and better choice, would have been to create a unique character, so that Cassie had at least one friend that wasn’t an existing IP. Instead, she is a boring, wet blanket of a woman with no close friends.

The mostly expository dialogue is so clunky that I was surprised to discover Tommy Wiseau didn’t write the screenplay. Even that famous Spider-Man line, ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ gets butchered in an attempt to differentiate it from the original. We also get several paragraphs of odd lines from the villain (‘one day, I am going to be murdered’; ‘every night I have the same dream … where I am murdered’). Though Dakota Johnson tries her darndest, her self-aware deadpanning can’t save her from this godawful script.

Cassie’s three young ingenues, Julia, Mattie and Anya, are central to the messily unfolding plot, with future visions teasing the audience that they will soon be revealed as superheroes. So much time is spent with both Cassie and her antagonist Ezekiel Sims having prophetic flashes of the three girls in their own Spider-Woman outfits, that you’d think it’s a no-brainer to payoff on this foreshadowing sometime in the film’s third act.

Apparently, though, none of that is important – we won’t see them transform until the sequel. I don’t think I’ve ever been more frustrated by a wasted plot point.

Heart racing

There are some tight action sequences that genuinely get the heart racing – though that could also be due to the constant Dutch angles and repetitive zooms, as well as the excruciatingly loud sound mix that takes over whenever Cassie has a future vision. I think bombarding anyone with that many artistic choices is bound to get the blood pumping – or perhaps boiling.

So, why is watching Madame Web like dropping a Golden Orb Weaver down your shirt? Well, much like that uniquely horrific experience, Madame Web‘s narrative is disorienting (packing origin stories on top of origin stories), its camerawork is panic-inducing (Zoom in! Zoom out! Zoom in! And again and again, from every angle!), and its choices scare me (Is this what movies are now? I ask myself repeatedly). Also, I don’t like it and am relieved when it’s over.

Madame Web is in cinemas now.


1 out of 5 stars


Sydney Sweeney, Dakota Johnson, Isabela Merced, Celeste O'Connor, Tahar Rahim


SJ Clarkson

Format: Movie

Country: Dakota Johnson

Release: 12 February 2024

Silvi Vann-Wall is a journalist, podcaster, and filmmaker. They joined ScreenHub as Film Content Lead in 2022. Twitter: @SilviReports