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Madame Web's biggest problem is all of that Spider-Man stuff

There might be a good movie hidden underneath everything in Sony's much-maligned superhero misfire

Madame Web screenshot
Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

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Now that Madame Web is on Netflix, it might be time to give the much-maligned movie another look with fresh eyes. After all, it didn’t exactly set the box office on fire when it was released this year... but, it turns out, that was for good reason – it is easily one of the worst comic book movies I’ve ever seen.

That's not only because of the terrible effects, lackluster dialogue, and a cast that can feel the Razzy nomination looming over them. It isn't even because of the painfully shoehorned product placement. The most frustrating bit, however, isn’t how bad the movie is. Watching bad films is an occupational hazard. No, the worst bit of Madame Web is that there is a good movie in there getting smothered by clumsy comic book references.

Madame Web
Image credit: Sony

“Good” might be a bit of a stretch, but there are wonderfully tense moments in Madame Web that had the audacity of giving me hope that the movie wouldn’t suck. The scene at Grand Central Terminal, as Cassie – the titular Madame Web – uses her visions to evade the approaching Evil Spider-Man, is fun and well shot. The director uses Cassie’s future-sight in a way that makes it feel powerful without disarming any tension in the scene.

The final conflict, which seems to take place in a Pepsi-Cola fireworks factory (there's that product placement I mentioned), feels like the best parts of Final Destination. It is full of near-misses and almost-deaths, some of which are creative, fun, and potentially gruesome. I’ve never wanted to see a terrible Spider-Man knockoff get hit in the face with a firework more.

Related: Dakota Johnson's voiceover sounds as bored as the viewer is in the new Madame Web trailer

The problem is literally everything that tries to remind you that Madame Web is a comic book movie. Every time they show the least interesting Spider-Women in their future costumes – which only happens in dream sequences for some reason – I rolled my eyes so hard I nearly fell backward in my chair. I’ve seen better quality and better fitting costumes on every convention floor I’ve been to.

The references to Peter Parker, who is shown but not named, are similarly frustrating. We know who that kid is; popping a balloon over someone saying his name isn’t prolonging the mystery – it is just hacky writing. Besides, why does the villain look like knockoff Spider-Man when Spider-Man hasn’t been born yet? It's like making a Venom movie without Spider-Man. Or a Morbius movie without Spider-Man. Or a Kraven the Hunter movie… you get my point. If Sony wants to make a movie about Spider-Man villains, they need to get the rights to the wallcrawler himself. Otherwise, it becomes frustrating and forces the writers to do Olympic-level gymnastics to make the plot even approach the realm of sense, something they failed to do with Madame Web.

Madame Web
Image credit: Sony

As much as I love comic book movies, this shouldn’t have been one. If they had stripped every reference to Spider-Man and comic book continuity out of the script and remade Madame Web into a supernatural thriller about a woman who could see 10 seconds into the future, this could have been fun. The few scenes where Cassie’s powers are useful and not mind-blowingly nonsensical show that there is the seed of a decent film that never gets to sprout because it is buried under mountains of product placement and costumes that make me long for the days of Bat-Nipples.

Basically, Madame Web could have been a good movie if it had been completely different, is what I’m saying.

Madame Web is available to stream on Netflix right now. (If you dare.)

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