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Madame Web (Christian Movie Review)

About the Film 

Even the most die-hard geeks must admit that comic book movies have been in a rut. The once bankable genre that owned the Hollywood Box Office for more than a decade has tumbled from its lofty pedestal. It has been a rough stretch, but Madame Web is scuttling into theaters to show audiences that there is still further to fall. Despite a capable lead actress and an intriguing premise of a hero with a superpowered mind rather than body, the film falls flat in almost every conceivable way. Weaving into its web a dreadful script, stilted dialogue, jarringly bad special effects, and an utter lack of excitement, Madame Webb is one of the worst comic book movies in recent memory. 

Madame Web is an origin story. Outside of a few brief flash-forward visions, the story occurs before the heroes come into their powers or don their spidery suits. On the surface, it’s a refreshing throwback to the early days of comic book films that featured personal challenges rather than cosmic, end-of-the-world stakes. Despite the lingering stigma related to her starring role in the Fifty Shades of Grey films, Dakota Johnson is a talented, charismatic actress. She is a capable lead and well cast in the role of Cassie Webb. Unfortunately, her greatest foe is not villains powered by spider bites but the script.     

Using the writers behind the disastrous Morbius to create the screenplay of Madame Web was an unforced blunder on Sony’s part that delivers expected results. The writing is among the worst of any comic book film to date, with dialogue, plot points, and genre tropes that feel like the product of an AI algorithm. The opening sequence is so cartoonish that it comes across as an SNL sketch lampooning the current state of comic book films rather than an earnest attempt at storytelling.     

In the film, Cassie is joined by a trio of characters who are destined to become superpowered spiderwomen. These supposedly teenage characters are played by actresses (most notably Sydney Sweeney) in their mid-twenties, and they act like young women trying to impersonate teenagers (normal teens randomly get up and dance on restaurant tables, right?). The villain, Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), is also let down by the script. He is given little to do beyond delivering clunky “bad guy” dialogue (and delivering it poorly).  

Obviously, suspension of disbelief is necessary for all superhero movies, but Madame Web is particularly illogical. For example, Cassie watches the on-the-nose scene of Scrooge’s encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in The Christmas Carol, even though she was just shown attending a summer barbeque. At another point, she seemingly takes a day trip from New York to the heart of the Amazon jungle to gain some needed information. 

Cassie’s clairvoyant abilities open the door to some mind-bending sequences, but the film is not clever enough to do anything interesting with them. The action, beyond the bad special effects, is unexciting. A byproduct of the “see the future” mechanic is that almost all the action becomes meaningless and void of stakes. There are two separate sequences in which the villain is fighting and killing the heroes, but it is instantly undone when the vision ends. The scenes become a cheap way to showcase shocking twists or violence. But since the audience knows it’s not “real,” it is reduced to empty spectacle.   

As a drama, the “found family” dynamic between Cassie and her three teenage protégées has some charm. But there is nothing in this film to make audiences want to see what the future holds for these heroes. Madame Web may be an origin story, but by following two Venom films and the notoriously bad Morbius, it may also be the end credits for the floundering Sony Studio’s “Spider-Man universe.”

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Free Will & Determinism     

As with many stories featuring clairvoyant abilities, the obvious question characters must ask is, “Do I have the power to change the future?” To quote the afore-mentioned Ebenezer Scrooge, “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?” In more philosophical terms, this question reflects the debate between free will and determinism.  While the script is too flighty to explore these themes in much depth, the question itself is interesting and relevant for Christians.    

Initially, Cassie’s powers are viewed as a curse rather than a blessing. When she sees a future vision of a man hurt in a car crash and is unable to stop it from happening, she struggles to cope with her powerlessness. Later, when a vision inspires her to change her actions, which leads to a different result, she realizes that viewing the future can allow her to make better choices in the present.  

The dilemma of whether the future is predetermined also applies to the characters on a personal level. Cassie and the three future spiderpeople all find themselves at a crossroads in their life, abandoned by their parents or restricted by factors outside their control. Is their future determined, or can they change its trajectory? 

This tension is found in the Bible as well. On the one hand, there are passages that teach predestination and the idea that many—perhaps all—of the important events in life are already decided (Romans 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:5-11). On the other hand, scripture recognizes free will (Joshua 24:14-15, John 3:16). These two understandings exist in constant tension, testifying to a sovereign God who is in control of all things but also allows people to have a free will (Romans 1:19-20). Madame Web does not resolve this tension, although it ultimately lands on the side of free will.  

The film also explores the related question of how much future knowledge is beneficial. Ezekiel Sims is tortured by a vision of three spiderwomen murdering him in the future. Thus, he tries to prevent it from happening, ultimately setting into motion the very events he sought to avoid. While glimpses of the future may help Christians to continue moving forward in faith, having the full future revealed without understanding the context would likely be disastrous. Instead, God asks that believers trust him, have faith, and follow where he leads, as captured in his famous command to Abraham, “Go to the land to which I will lead you” (Genesis 12:1). 

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