Madame Web loved

Madame Web is one of the worst films ever made – here’s why I loved every second of it

There’s no greater joy than watching an utter disaster destroy itself for two hours

It’s important to note there are distinctions between films that I think are absolute shit. There are films that take themselves very seriously that are shit, there are films that are trying very hard to be Oscar-standard, award bait that are shit. And there are films that are such a cocktail of disaster that they are shit – but you love them anyway. I’ll use a few recent examples for all three. The January horror film Night Swim is category one shit: A mess that takes a very silly premise (haunted swimming pool) and tries to put it across completely earnestly, which results in a bad film that no one can take seriously. No laughs to be had, so it’s just shit. An example of the second type of shit is the 2023 biopic NYAD, which is horrible stylistically and tries too hard to be Oscar bait. It’s received nominations, but no one is wowing – ergo, shit. The third type is Madame Web – a film that has been a laughing stock since its conception, whose immense and disastrous shitness took on a mythological power of its own that is still spiralling now. A film where the bad reviews become a selling point, where Dakota Johnson’s disinterest goes viral. After seeing the monstrosity in full yesterday, I can confirm it’s as bad as you have heard. Truly one of the worst films of all time – and yet I loved every stupid second of Madame Web. I would watch it again, any time, any place and I’d go to the cinema to see multiple sequels.

— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) February 19, 2024

It’s quite perplexing to try and explain Madame Web to literally anyone. “Her web connects them all”, we’re told on posters and literally everywhere we look when this film is concerned. “Them all” refers to three teenagers who are something to do with Spider-Man – but the film doesn’t really tell you this. One of the teenagers is played by the 26 year old Sydney Sweeney. “Her” refers to the titular Madame Web. In the Marvel comics, Madame Web is an old lady in a wheelchair who is connected up to a web-like life support system. In the Sony film, Madame Web is Dakota Johnson. The character is called Cassandra Webb, but the superhero title is Madame Web. The double b annoyance here is the least of everyone’s issues.

The film opens with Madame Web’s mum in the Amazon, where she’s murdered by the villain of the film in a matter of seconds. It’s horribly written and even more horribly directed. This cold opening is the source material of the now infamous, viral line from the trailer: “he was in the Amazon with my mom researching spiders just before she died.” After much ridicule and an awkward encounter with a journalist who dared ask Dakota Johnson about this clunky bit of exposition, the hallowed dialogue no longer remains in the movie.

Cassandra Webb is a paramedic, and after a near-death experience causes her to start getting visions of the future she by chance encounters her mother’s murderer hunting down the three teens – who he wants rid of because when he got spider powers in the Amazon he’s cursed with seeing glimpses into a future where these teens will kill him. Or something. Honestly, guys – it doesn’t matter. The people who made this film do not even care, so why should me or you? You’re reading this because you know Madame Web is apparently bad, and I’m writing it because Madame Web IS astronomically bad – but it’s one of the most entertaining two hours you could wish to have at the cinema right now.

Most of this is down to the woeful, iconic, for-the-history-books miscasting of Dakota Johnson. Before I go on, I need to preface this by saying I really love Dakota Johnson. I think in the right hands, she has deadpan powers of Aubrey Plaza proportions. She makes me laugh without even trying. Her constant idgaf demeanour is addictive. Do you know where you absolutely need to give a bit of a fuck? In a superhero film full of action with a 12A rating. I don’t even know how it ever got to Dakota Johnson becoming a name attached to this film. It’s as bizarre as casting Jacob Elordi as Winston Churchill.

Watching Dakota Johnson fumble her way through Madame Web is why I loved it so much, certainly a huge part of it. There’s pretty much no difference in Dakota Johnson the actor being interviewed and Dakota Johnson as Madame Web. It’s the same. If you’re entertained by her interview manner and antics – you can’t not be smirking along at Madame Web. It’s like she’s gone deep-cover to destroy the endless slurry of superhero films from the inside. I love it.

Other huge reasons why Madame Web is a) shit and b) loved by me, is because the villain is pretty much dubbed the entirety of the film. Tahar Rahim is a native French speaker, and there are literally scenes where lines are being said and you can see his lips doing something completely different – like when the worst people you know watch a foreign language film on Netflix dubbed rather than reading subtitles. It’s an editing nightmare. You watch it and your jaw is in the abyss at how this film ever got signed off for release.

The 2003 setting presents itself in comically slapped round the chops ways, like a ginormous billboard for Beyoncé’s Dangerously in Love, a universal affinity for Toxic by Britney Spears and a hilarious line where 20 seconds after nearly dying, Madame Web says she “just wants to get home. And watch Idol.” At one point, Mis-Teeq’s song Scandalous plays whilst the teens walk through the woods Cassie dumped them in to get to a diner and it’s utterly unclear whether the music is diegetic or non-diegetic. It’s kind of both, but it makes no sense. And nobody cared! Least of all me, who was laughing out loud at the bizarre choices.

I loved Madame Web even more when the Pepsi product placement got so extreme that I was shaking my head at the screen. People who slated Mean Girls’ product placement have seen nothing yet. Pepsis are handed out so blatantly you feel like you’re in The Truman Show. The final fight literally happens on a Hollywood Sign-sized Pepsi sign. The battle ends and the girlies enjoy a Pepsi. It’s picoseconds off being called Madame Pepsi: Her Cola Quenches Them All.

But honestly, and I am being deadly serious when I say this, despite the fact Madame Web is being touted as the reason why we might finally see the end of the superhero genre’s harrowing vice grip on the cultural zeitgeist, I truly have not loved and enjoyed a superhero film more in recent years. There’s only a very fine line between the MCU’s beloved big films and their heavy exposition and fan service and Madame Web – a film only a fraction clunkier than those crash bang wallop films are in the first place. Madame Web deserves its dragging and it will go down in history as one of the biggest disasters on screen in recent memory. But that’s exactly why I loved it: Being a part of history and seeing such a hilariously, entertainingly dreadful film can bring nothing but joy when you go in there ready for it.


Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Ranking Dakota Johnson’s Madame Web press tour moments by how unhinged they are

• Dakota Johnson’s ridiculously rich and famous family tree, explained

• All chief nepo baby Dakota Johnson’s tone-deaf interviews, ranked