Madame Web First Reviews: "Not the Worst Spider-Man Spinoff"

Sony's latest Spider-hero fails to capture the hearts and minds of the critics, though some acknowledge Dakota Johnson's wry delivery and the potential lurking below the surface.

by | February 13, 2024 | Comments


The latest installment of Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (which also includes Venom and Morbius) is mostly receiving negative reviews, but there are some positive elements in Madame Web worth highlighting. Firstly, Dakota Johnson’s lead performance is being praised for its humor, whether intentional or unintentional, in her portrayal of the titular Marvel character. Your enjoyment of the movie also might hinge on your interest in an early 2000s comic book movie throwback with some modern updates to the female superhero element. As is often the case with mainly-panned movies like this, the script might be at fault, as the standalone Spider-Man spin-off apparently has enough other things going for it to be worth seeing it for yourself.

Here’s what critics are saying about Madame Web:

Does it meet expectations?

Madame Web has enough rewards for those who are willing to suspend preconceptions and follow its threads.” – Hannah Rose, CBR

“Go in with an open mind and see for yourself how you feel about the film, just don’t let the negative press sway your opinion.” – Jamie Broadnax, Black Girl Nerds

“Sure, it is far from a perfect movie, but there is joy to be found in Cassie’s dynamic with people in her life, the situations that these girls find themselves in, and the Spidey-ness of it all… Madame Web is fun to watch.” – Rachel Leishman, The Mary Sue

Madame Web is not the unmitigated disaster that its clunky trailer or its calendar spot in February would suggest.” – Christy Lemire,

“One of the most unexpected titles to come out of the current superhero boom [is] a fascinating cultural artifact.” – Jenna Anderson,

“This odd duck makes for a fascinating watch.” – Witney Seibold, Slashfilm

Dakota Johnson in Madame Web (2024)

(Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Sony Pictures)

How does it compare to Venom and Morbius?

“The good news is Madame Web is not the worst Spider-Man spinoff. (That would be Morbius.)” – Kristy Puchko, Mashable

“Saying Madame Web is better than Morbius and the two Venom movies is akin to a back-handed compliment, but it really does offer something quite different from other Marvel and Spider-Man movies, and the last act is pretty terrific as things do start coming together after far too much set-up time.” – Edward Douglas, Above the Line

Madame Web further illustrates that Sony’s Spider-Man Universe has potential when not trying to be a modern cinematic universe at all, and instead being a springboard for the most niche genre stories imaginable.” – Jenna Anderson,

“[Sony’s Spider-Man Universe] got off to a goofy start with Venom and its sequel before running aground with 2022’s Morbius, and it now fully crashes and burns with Madame Web.” – Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

What about other superhero movies?

“A return to form for the superhero genre, Madame Web’s brand-new-yet-retro approach to cinema and its creative take on Spider-Man’s mythos make it a much-needed hard reset for the Marvel cinematic experience, while blazing new trails of its own.” – Hannah Rose, CBR

Madame Web is blissfully breezy in its pacing, which helps make it a more enjoyable watch than some of the super-serious, end-of-the-world fare we often see.” – Christy Lemire,

Madame Web isn’t likely to be the movie that saves the superhero ‘genre,’ although you do have to give it a little bit of credit for trying to do a few things that are semi-daring and different.” – Edward Douglas, Above the Line

Madame Web isn’t going to reverse the ongoing decline of superhero cinema, but unlike some of its notable contemporaries, it’s strong enough to make its intended sequels feel like promises rather than threats.” – Alonso Duralde, The Film Verdict

Madame Web is a modern-day throwback to the superhero adaptations of yesteryear… The film dovetails back around to evoking the media, both superheroic and otherwise, of the 2000s.” – Jenna Anderson,

“One can look at Madame Web and witness the entire genre dissipating. Trust me, this is a good thing.” – Witney Seibold, Slashfilm

Poster image for Madame Web (2024)

(Photo by Sony Pictures)

Does it require any homework?

Madame Web is one of those rare superhero movies you can watch without ever having seen another movie.” – Edward Douglas, Above the Line

Madame Web is a tale that stands on its own. No previous plotlines, pre-existing continuities and introductions are needed… Those unaware of Madame Web or her Spider-Women in the comics can still comfortably enjoy this cinematic ride.” – Hannah Rose, CBR

“I can assure you, this film is set up in a way where you don’t have to be a hardcore Spider-Man nerd or even have any familiarity with the Spiderverse in order to understand the premise of this character or her narrative.” – Jamie Broadnax, Black Girl Nerds

How is the action?

“The sequence in which Cassie fully begins to grasp her unwanted abilities — and realizes she must use them to save three teenage girls from being brutally attacked on a train waiting to leave Grand Central Terminal — is legitimately suspenseful.” – Christy Lemire,

Madame Web is suspenseful and action-packed… It’s truly a fun ride.” – Jamie Broadnax, Black Girl Nerds

“Some of the action sequences have more in common with Final Destination than they do Spider-Man. There aren’t even that many action sequences.” – Witney Seibold, Slashfilm

Madame Web frequently forgets to be an action movie.” – Kristy Puchko, Mashable

What about the script?

Madame Web is a strong, cohesive narrative. Themes, symbols, motifs and plot threads are examined, picked up, and consistently woven throughout the film, creating a completed web rather than a tangled kudzu with hanging loose threads.” – Hannah Rose, CBR

“The screenplay has some smart ideas, including an exploration of how the post-9/11 period saw U.S. citizens forfeiting their right to privacy from government surveillance, but it also offers up clunky flashbacks and shameless product placement.” – Alonso Duralde, The Film Verdict

“If there’s one interesting thing in Madame Web, it’s how the film navigates the post-9/11 personal security landscape… It’s a rare satisfying element in a film that otherwise fails to deliver at every turn.” – Lovia Gyarkye. Hollywood Reporter

“We’ve seen this reliving of events with multiple chances to get it right many times before, from Groundhog Day to Final Destination to Happy Death Day, but while the premise isn’t exactly novel, Madame Web finds some compelling avenues into it.” – Christy Lemire,

“It’s not an original premise by any means, but it’s one that’s also hurt by a screenplay full of cheesy dialogue with a pace that keeps it from ever getting too exciting.” – Edward Douglas, Above the Line

“There are multiple instances where the narrative tension almost skids to a halt, repeating information we already know and dropping a new confusing narrative nugget in the process.” – Jenna Anderson,

How is S.J. Clarkson’s transition to feature filmmaking?

“Clarkson, whose many TV credits include the Marvel series Jessica Jones, keeps things moving at an exciting clip with fluid camera movements and high-energy transitions.” – Christy Lemire,

“Director S.J. Clarkson, who also co-wrote the screenplay, did a great job of delivering some intense moments throughout the film.” – Jamie Broadnax, Black Girl Nerds

Tahar Rahim in Madame Web (2024)

(Photo by ©Marvel/©Columbia Pictures)

Is it funny?

“Cassie has a droll sense of humor, and many of her lines land thanks to Johnson’s deadpan delivery… There’s a particularly funny scene in which she dampens the mood of a baby shower.” – Lovia Gyarkye. Hollywood Reporter

“Sometimes it’s a cringe comedy about an anti-social thirty-something who isn’t interested in the hassle of being a hero. And here is where Johnson shines.” – Kristy Puchko, Mashable

“Dakota Johnson and Sydney Sweeney bring an endearing irreverence to their characters that could be read as camp, if needed.” – Peter Debruge, Variety

“Often the information dumps in the script… are unintentionally hilarious in their banality.” – Christy Lemire,

“A showcase of unintentionally hilarious expressions and utterances.” – Nick Schager, The Daily Beast

So how is Dakota Johnson, then?

“None of this would work without Johnson, whose gift for side-eye and deadpan line readings grounds what could be a very silly story into one with real human stakes.” – Alonso Duralde, The Film Verdict

“She brings a refreshing, grounded quality to her superhero vibe.” – Christy Lemire,

“Dakota Johnson takes the mantle of the titular superhero like a duck to water.” – Hannah Rose, CBR

“What is actually fun about Madame Web is completely rooted in Johnson’s approach to Cassie as a character… As you’re watching Johnson’s dry sense of humor shine through, you can’t help but love Cassie, and it irons out the parts of the movie that don’t make a lot of sense.” – Rachel Leishman, The Mary Sue

“Johnson easily gives Madame Web’s most enigmatic performance, delivering acerbic charm in one moment and an unfortunate flatness in the next.” – Jenna Anderson,

“The actress is strongest when Cassie navigates socially awkward situations with a chaotic honesty… but when the film requires Johnson to bump up the energy, the Fifty Shades actress stumbles.” – Lovia Gyarkye. Hollywood Reporter

 Isabela Merced, Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, and Celeste O'Connor in Madame Web (2024)

(Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/©Marvel/©Columbia Pictures)

What about the rest of the cast?

“Adam Scott proves to be the biggest highlight of Madame Web’s ensemble, becoming a quietly reliable scene-stealer every time he appears on screen.” – Jenna Anderson,

“Sweeney, Merced and O’Connor are mostly locked into one-note roles (and they’re all way too old to be high school students), but, together with Johnson, the four of them have a decent amount of chemistry.” – Christy Lemire,

Does the movie at least have a good villain?

“Tahar Rahim as Ezekiel Sims is also excellent. He delivered a subtle and elegant performance that radiated cold effortless charm and stoicism. His Sims is unapologetically but formally malicious, restrained yet effective as an iconic villain.” – Hannah Rose, CBR

“Whether it’s the actor’s fault or the material’s, Ezekiel Sims never musters a memorable level of wickedness, winding up as just another harrumphing guy in a suit (and, sometimes, a costume).” – Alonso Duralde, The Film Verdict

“Even his costume is an embarrassment, though the mask does serve to cover Rahim’s mouth — it’s a shame to hide the gifted French actor, though his lips never seem to be in sync with what he’s saying, suggesting the performance didn’t go as planned.” – Peter Debruge, Variety

11% Madame Web (2024) opens in theaters on February 14, 2024.

Thumbnail image by Warner Bros. Pictures

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