Making a movie is like a spider spinning its intricate web; both require tons of planning, patience and creativity. Just as a spider carefully selects the right location to build its home, filmmakers must choose the perfect setting for their story to unfold. Each strand of silk a spider weaves represents a crucial element of the film: the plot, characters, dialogue and visuals.

Like a spider navigating with precision, directors guide their cast and crew through the complexities of production, ensuring every detail aligns seamlessly. As the spider waits patiently for its prey, filmmakers wait for the perfect moment to capture the audience’s attention, spinning suspense and intrigue into the narrative with well-thought-out trailers and press releases. And just as a spider’s web is a masterpiece of design, a well-crafted movie leaves a lasting impression, weaving its story into the fabric of our memories.

Conversely, if a studio and a director opt to neglect these foundational strands, the entire movie suffers. Without a well-defined plot, characters take center stage, placing added pressure on actors and scriptwriters to compensate for plot deficiencies through compelling dialogue and character development. The visual team is then tasked with working tirelessly to ensure that on-screen elements distract from any plot shortcomings or character portrayals. Subsequently, the marketing team faces the challenge of generating excitement for the film without revealing too much of the story, while also carefully selecting which aspects to highlight to avoid disappointing dedicated fans with inconsequential scenes.

Every aspect must harmonize within this intricate web; otherwise, the envisioned masterpiece will fall short of expectations.

Sony Pictures recently unveiled its latest Spider-Man-related film, Madame Web. The story centers on Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson), a paramedic in Manhattan who discovers she possesses psychic abilities, enabling her to foresee future events and alter destiny. Cassandra’s path crosses with those of three teenage girls: Julia (Sydney Sweeney), Mattie (Celeste O’Connor) and Anya (Isabela Merced). She intervenes to rescue them from an assault orchestrated by a man named Ezekial Sims (Tahar Rahim). The connection between these strangers and Ezekial’s sinister intentions forms the heart of the mystery they must unravel to safeguard their lives.

While Madame Web may not be a household name in comic book circles, the character’s presence in various cartoons and video games has granted her a degree of recognition. Positioning her within Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (SSU) offered a promising avenue for expanding the franchise alongside established characters like Venom and Morbius, particularly with the impending arrival of Kraven the Hunter. This could have provided an attractive alternative to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) amid concerns about declining interest.

Regrettably, the creators of Madame Web opted for a different approach. While the film draws from elements of the Spider-Man lore (such as Cassandra’s association with Ben, Peter Parker’s uncle and Peter’s birth during the narrative), it confines Madame Web to a separate, insulated universe within the SSU. Without any multiverse elements, the fundamental rationale for Madame Web‘s inclusion is absent. Lacking the appeal necessary to captivate comic book enthusiasts and failing to offer significant ties to Spider-Man‘s familiar world, the film’s brief nods to these elements ultimately feel fleeting and disconnected.

The storyline, while not overly complex, lacks any real meaning. Ezekial’s motivations for pursuing Julia, Mattie and Anya are apparent, yet his methods seem contrived solely to facilitate Cassandra’s heroic intervention. While it’s common for villains to foreshadow their intentions, Ezekial’s actions feel overtly transparent even before he’s identified. As Cassandra delves deeper into Ezekial’s background, her quest leads her to Peru in search of a secluded tribe of “spider people” with connections to their shared pasts. Despite the tribe’s supposed reclusiveness, Cassandra inexplicably encounters no obstacles in locating them. These developments feel too conveniently resolved, robbing the heroine of the necessary struggles to overcome adversity and resulting in a narrative that feels disappointingly weak.

From a visual standpoint, Madame Web makes some rather off-putting decisions. Scenes that don’t heavily rely on action maintain an acceptable quality, but when the action ramps up, the cinematography falters. Understandably, the filmmakers aimed to employ new camera techniques to enhance the impact of the action sequences. However, many of these choices proved to be too rapid and jittery and I experienced motion sickness as the camera executed barrel rolls and rapid flybys. There must be a more effective approach to render these scenes impactful without inducing nausea.

The casting in Madame Web is decent, overall. The chemistry among the primary females gradually develops, as one would expect when strangers come together. Dakota Johnson, in particular, faced a challenging situation with this film. In interviews, she expressed difficulties in accessing background information about Madame Web from the comics and understanding the broader context of the SSU and MCU combined. While some might fault her for not fully immersing herself in her character, she clarified that she was informed that this iteration diverged significantly from the comics and viewers wouldn’t require prior knowledge of the film universes to enjoy the movie.

While Dakota and the main cast may have worked diligently with the background materials provided, their characters were not strong enough to overcome the lackluster plot.

The marketing campaign for Madame Web also fell short of expectations. A significant grievance was the decision to showcase Cassandra, Mattie, Julia and Anya in full superhero attire in trailers. This presentation suggested the film would extensively feature the team uniting against a formidable foe. However, these costumes only make a brief appearance, amounting to roughly five minutes of screen time, depicted as a vision of a potential future. For avid Marvel comic enthusiasts, witnessing these characters in their superhero garb was a highlight; however, this perceived bait-and-switch strategy may have initially attracted audiences, but it ultimately sparked widespread frustration online.

While established SSU films like Spider-Man and Venom may remain relatively unaffected, upcoming ventures could suffer from diminished anticipation due to disillusionment caused by misleading marketing approaches.

I rate Madame Web a dismal one out of five stars. Unlike the strong and graceful web spun by a spider, Madame Web delivers a feeble web akin to silly string. The plot lacks the strength to sustain the film, while character development, chemistry and dialogue only reach passable levels. Visually, the overly complicated and shaky camera work induces headaches for some viewers. Moreover, the marketing team’s failure to generate excitement for the majority of the film, relying instead on fleeting scenes, is evident.

If Madame Web sets the standard for Sony’s future projects in the SSU, significant concerns arise. It’s high time for the team to learn how to weave a better narrative, as Madame Web is too weak to meet expectations.