Madame Web

They never even call her Madame Web on-screen - 3.5/10

by Jad Sammour

Sigh… yeah this is not a good one, but then again who thought it would be?

When I first heard about the project I was intrigued and had a small delusional glimmer of hope within me that believed this can be a refreshing addition to the comic book movie, a much needed deviation from the usual studio offering. This was crushed the moment I saw the trailer, then first reviews dropped two days before the film’s release and they were atrocious. Instead of turning me off, I watched it and it wasn’t so terrible? Negativity is an interesting phenomenon. It can easily travel along the web (haha see what I did there?) and spread a bleak picture about a film and it becomes a cultural element of enjoyment, watching a bad film and participating in the collective dissing of it, with negativity celebrating it…. for the wrong reasons. It is comforting to collectively say bad things about a film, and a film like Madame Web may be a deserving example, except I disagree. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a bad film on pretty much every level but I would be dishonest if I said I didn’t have a good time, some times.  Now granted I watched it right after a 4-day binge of rewatching the Saw films which are by no means masterpieces – though they’re quite the unique films in their playful editing, narrative structures, bizarre plot-twists, and demented fun traps – and Madame Web may have come right at the exactly needed moment… having said that, I do think it is a bad film with missed potential.

First and foremost, the script is a mess (plot holes and all), and I am not using the word lightly. Every line of dialogue stood out like a sore thumb, not a single conversation played out as natural or normal. Some lines did not even match what the actor was mouthing (were his lines dubbed? Were they changed in ADR? No clue and I know this is not a script issue). There are a few instances where the film shows you, in a sequence of events, a certain thing (a truth or a process) making it self-explanatory (visually and narratively) but then you have a character that just goes on and explains it, in a line of dialogue, right after the events make this "thing" obvious... it's redundant and comes off as awkward. Then you have the story which is quite straightforward but badly developed and rushed when it is about exploring Web’s powers. I did enjoy the origin story, and it gave me a sense of nostalgia to the Raimi Spider-Man films. I like super hero origin stories and I honestly missed them. The film did take a surprisingly big chunk of the runtime just explaining how she discovered her powers – which surprised me because I haven’t seen a super-hero discovering their powers in a long time - only to skimp over her learning to use them, or even properly explain to the audience how they actually work as this never got properly explained, even with exposition-heavy scenes. Opposite her is the villain whose personality does not exist; he’s just bad as in evil and badly-written. He just wants to make money and this is only for the prologue scene because afterwards you learn nothing about him. His second motive is killing three characters because of a recurrent vision… and that’s all you learn about him. He’s barely a character, super flat and uninteresting. Sure he has Spider-Man’s powers but what are they without the personality or the drive to use them. Utterly bad… he’s just some spider-person. The three ladies who are Madame Web’s responsibility are a decent bunch that reminded me of Totally Spies for some reason (remember the show?). They have distinct personalities which do not go beyond what their outfits say about them: one of them wears a t-shirt that says “I eat Math for breakfast” and guess what? She’s the smart one who half her dialogue is science talk. Another wears a school-girl-like outfit and she’s a shy people-pleaser who likes discipline. And the one with the skateboard is the rebel who disrespects people. Is this a bad thing? Not really… visual storytelling or whatever. Ben Parker is in this film. Speaking of the Parkers, if this film put the amount effort and length taken to avoid saying Spider-Man or Peter Parker, into the writing and direction’s quality, it would’ve been a descent film. The way they avoid it and created visual nods as if they are trying to have spider-man without having him is hilarious. 

I was surprised that I could still see some good in Madame Web, I guess this is perhaps the first comic book film in a while where the hero is just an average person with a normal life, free from stupid universe set-ups (minus the spider-man stuff of course). The future-vision scenes reminded me of that film with Nicholas Cage where he can see the future. Madame Web is an unorthodox superhero and the film feels insecure about this and does not properly embrace it, and only merely teases her potential. I like the character of Madame Web, it came off as fresh and as an attempt to do something different though the execution severely bogs it down. It failed to embrace the uniqueness of a super-hero with such powers and it ended up being an unrewarding experience when it came to her powers and what makes her unique.

The direction is particularly interesting because the director made some baffling, bizarre and uninspired choices. And what’s the deal with those half-punch-zoom-ins? What were those? They were overused in the prologue and sprinkled in some action scenes. They made no sense, barely changed the frame, and added nothing. Why would you do this half-jerked zoom when you’re already in a medium close-up with a gun or a jar or whatever you’re highlighting already put front and center? I can see it, it’s there! Then you have boring blocking in lengthy dialogue scenes. The actors’ performances were as good as the lines they’ve been given. Some editing choices were terrible and surprised me how they were even cleared.

The film has some bad VFX moments but no weird background replacements that stood out to me. The vision scenes had weird VFX but they’re stylistic choices that don’t necessary look bad unlike in The Flash’s chronoball scenes. The score is as generic as they come.

 I did enjoy the group on screen and honestly I wouldn’t mind seeing them again in a sequel, and if it got greenlit by some miracle, it’s gonna need a lot of work. The Spider-Women trio does make a nice ensemble that I think has what it needs for a team-up film.  

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