I woke up with a hankering to watch a sequel to either Madame Bovary or Charlotte’s Web. It’s simply one of those cravings a person gets on any given day. I’m sure you can relate.

To the Interweb I went to see what played at the local theater. Lo and behold, they had a film called Madame Web. Surely, I couldn’t lose either way.

Alas, I did lose. Madame Web is not a sequel to Madame Bovary nor Charlotte’s Web. It seemed more like a sequel, prequel or sidequel to Nicholas Cage’s Next, where a character can see a few minutes into the future.

Digging more deeply, I discovered, Madame Web was, in fact, one of Sony’s NOT-Marvelverse movies, like Venom or Morbius.

Let’s look at Madame Web. Spoilers will be dispensed as needed. No worry will be wasted on whether they are major or minor spoilers because, frankly…who cares?

Casting Madame Web

The first act of Madame Web generally works. It won’t make a person change their religion, but it set up an interesting character and an intriguing premise.

Dakota Johnson plays an NYC paramedic who begins to have glimpses of the immediate future after a near-death experience. You may recognize Johnson from such films as Crazy In Alabama, Goats and The Disappearance of Shere Hite.

Johnson does mostly solid work holding Madame Web together with chewing gum and twisty-ties, along with keeping her hair as listless as possible. I genuinely believed Johnson was too cool to care about her appearance.

Johnson’s glimpses into the future include the presence of NOT-Spider-Man, who is portrayed by Tahar Rahim. Rahim recently appeared in Ridley Scott’s Napoleon and makes his hair resemble the ‘do worn by Naveen Andrews in Lost. Man, whatever happened to that guy?

NOT-Spider-Man is an unexpectedly interesting take on a supervillain. He isn’t trying to destroy the world, acquire an all-powerful MacGuffin or shoot a blue laser into the sky.

Rather, he is simply trying not to die. NOT-Spider-Man also has visions of the future. He is haunted by a dream of being killed by three lady superheroes and wants to get to them first.


Careful, girls. We’re surrounded by Incels.

First Things First

The first act plays out more like a poor man’s M. Night Shyamalan film than a Marvel film. Initial scenes are all buildup, character and mystery.

They are delivered adequately enough to make a viewer believe that maybe they will see something better than expected. However, the warts start to show after the first hour of Madame Web.

First, the Midriff Girls are introduced (Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor and Isabela Merced).

The Midriff Girls serve three purposes: they give Dakota Johnson something to do while she figures out what is going on; they give the villain a goal; and they serve as the fulcrum point for Dakota Johnson and NOT-Spider-Man to lever against each other.

Beyond being plot devices, the Midriff Girls are tedious. None of them have any personality beyond their wardrobes. They are not interesting, funny or agents of action. They merely do stupid things and make anemic attempts at being funny.

The trailer for Madame Web gives the impression the Midriff Girls don superhero outfits and do superhero things. This is a cheat. All of the scenes in the trailer that show them in costume are brief glimpses into the future. They are not superheroes in the movie’s timeline.

Second Things Second

The first act of a story is the easiest. All the writer has to do is set up a premise and a mystery.

The second act is where things become challenging. Momentum must be maintained, and the seeds for satisfying answers must be planted. If that can be accomplished, the third act should take care of itself.

Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless wrote Madame Web. Their credits include Dracula Untold and Power Rangers.

That should be enough experience to deliver a serviceable Madame Web movie, yet the second act of the movie falls into a trap usually reserved for low-budget horror movies: repetition.

Madame Web saves the Midriff Girls in the nick of time. Then she needs to go away to figure things out. Madame Web saves the Midriff Girls in the nick of time. Then she needs to go away to figure things out. Madame Web saves the Midriff Girls in the nick of time. Then she needs to go away to figure things out…

That is basically the entire second act of the movie. The issue is further exacerbated because the movie generates little viewer engagement during Johnson’s learning process. A good movie has the main character take the viewer along for the ride as they discover new information that solves the mystery.

The viewer already knows everything Dakota Johnson discovers because her journey is catching up on everything revealed in the first act.


Did you think I was in this movie? Ha! Fooled you!

Third Things Third

By the time the third act and climax roll around, all of the wind is fully drained from Madame Web’s sails. It’s as lazy as a workplace on a Friday afternoon before a three-day weekend.

The climax is about the only action scene in the movie. This lack of action also hurts Madame Web. It has nothing to rouse the viewer out of their steadily-increasing stupor.

Furthermore, when action does occur, it is a bit muddy in its editing. It gives the appearance that the action was not properly planned/filmed, and they tried to hide that fact in the cutting room.

S.J. Clarkson directed Madame Web. She came out of the TV side of the business, directing episodes of Dexter, Banshee and Jessica Jones. Clarkson brings little flair to Madame Web. The movie could just as well be a TV show itself.

Perhaps one hinderance Clarkson faced was a lack of chemistry between the Midriff Girls and Johnson. Whenever the four of them are together, it is lifeless.

I imagine trying to maintain false positivity in that environment would have been enough to make even Russell Wilson throw up his hands and say, “Screw it. I’m going on a blackout bender.”

Madame Web would have been better served to not include the Midriff Girls. Concentrating strictly on Dakota Johnson vs. NOT-Spider-Man within the confines of the mystery would have been a more straightforward and satisfying story.

Tangled Madame Web

Throughout the film, I was confused by character reactions to NOT-Spider-Man. It seemed to me that Spider-Man should exist in this universe. Ergo, the characters should react to NOT-Spider-Man with a degree of familiarity.

Yet, they treat him as a unique phenomenon. Also, if any connections to the Spider-Man universe were made in Madame Web, I missed them. All I caught was a riff on the “with great power, comes great responsibility” line.

It turns out a fairly big reference was made. Either the movie was too coy about it, or I was that oblivious. Adam Scott plays Ben Parker, Peter Parker’s uncle. His sister (played by Emma Roberts) is pregnant with Peter during the timeline of the movie.

Therefore, all of the events in Madame Web happen before Peter Parker is born.

The movie ends with Dakota Johnson in, what I can only guess, is the comic book state of the character of Madame Web. It also hints at more adventures to come. I haven’t seen this much misguided optimism since I asked Mary Lou MacGuyverson to prom.

Look at me now, Mary Lou! I write for LMO! You could have shared this life!

Live look at LMO Headquarters…


All that aside, Madame Web is weak. The Sony Venom movies are not good either, but they at least have the self-awareness to bask in their goofiness. Madame Web takes itself way too seriously.

By the time the movie ends with a half-hearted girl-power speech over a montage of the Midriff Girls in superhero costume, I was long since checked out. By the way, if I never see a close-up of a female character with a gravely-tough expression again, it will be too soon.

On the plus side, Madame Web only cost $80 million, so it is a bargain as far as failures go…