Regular readers will recall my review of Blue Beetle last year, which I called ‘the best bad superhero movie.’ I didn’t mean it was almost a good superhero movie—because it definitely isn’t—but rather that it was everything an enjoyably bad superhero movie should be. It has a distinct feel, memorably kooky side performances, and some gloriously memetic moments. Madame Web, on the other hand, has none of these things. In fact, it has almost nothing to recommend it all, except possibly the masochistic thrill of subjecting oneself to two hours of cruel and unusual cinematic torture—if that’s your thing.

To be clear, I’m not talking run-of-the-mill formula badness here, like Black Adam, The Marvels, or any of the other sorry offerings that have lately characterized the superhero genre. This is flagrant, white-hot badness—badness that announces itself by screaming in your ears at the top of its lungs every second it’s onscreen. Hideo Kojima said it all. Even the opening credits look like they were made on iMovie circa 2005. Not a single frame is convincing. Not a single performance is passable. Not a single plot beat is earned. The sheer breadth of ineptitude on display would  honestly be kind of impressive if it weren’t all so, well… bad.

@ Sony

To Madame Web’s credit (or perhaps not), it’s bad in a very specific way. Watching it brings back unpleasant memories of those pre-Batman Begins, pre-Iron Man 2000s superhero movies like Catwoman, Elektra, and Ghost Rider, which liked to pretend they weren’t superhero movies by wasting time with pedestrian crime plots and keeping the tights hidden until the very end—if they had them at all. If you haven’t heard of any of these… count yourself lucky.

Madame Web is cut from the same cloth, right down to an early 2000s setting—though that weirdly specific period seems deliberately engineered to feature the birth of a certain webhead whose name cannot be uttered for contractual reasons. I can tell you it starts with a P, though. And he has an Uncle Ben, who is inexplicably a paramedic. And at one point, a mystical spider shaman in the Amazon (yeah, the movie’s cultural sensitivity is approximately early 2000s, too) says, “When you take on the responsibility, great power will come.” Yes, this is a real line of dialogue written by actual Hollywood screenwriters, who no doubt thought they were pretty clever.

In fairness, these guys also wrote Morbius. Oh, and Gods of Egypt. And that stupid 2017 Power Rangers movie. So perhaps it’s our fault for encouraging them.

The rest of the plot, such as it is, is hardly more illustrious. After a risible scene-setting prologue, we’re introduced to Cassandra Webb (when a name like that is the least silly thing in your movie, you know you’re in trouble), Uncle Ben’s fellow paramedic, plagued with visions of the future. These range from a pigeon smashing into her window to a dude in a Spider-Man ripoff suit snapping people’s necks on the subway. Said Spider-Man ripoff dude happens to be the guy who killed her mother years ago and is now obsessed with killing three incredibly annoying teenagers because—you guessed it—he’s also had visions of the future. Visions in which the teenagers, wearing spider-outfits not fit for a free video game DLC, kill him in cold blood. 

Unfortunately, for all the killing and general mayhem this premise promises, the film offers disappointingly little in that department. A good half of it is just Cassie babysitting the three girls, who, like all movie teenagers, cannot be left alone for more than five minutes without running off to a diner and treating a random group of frat boys to a sexy table dance. I’m not exaggerating; this is something that actually happens in Madame Web. Cassie’s solution after the bad guy inevitably tracks the girls down is, of course, to plow a stolen taxi into the diner, hoping she’ll hit only him and not any innocent civilians—or, indeed, the girls she’s supposed to be protecting yet displays remarkably little care for. In the end, she pulls it off perfectly. Because of course she does.

Don’t even get me started on the blatant product placement, including a giant Pepsi sign introduced early on that ends up having a, shall we say, crushing significance in the final battle. This Chekhov’s Gun, crude as it is, would appear to be evidence that the writers went back and edited their work at least once, but I remain skeptical. Perhaps my misguided faith in humanity makes me believe no human being could revisit lines like Cassie’s flat “I think I’m seeing the future” and resist changing them. Then again, “Somehow Palpatine returned” exists. 

@ Sony

I might be too much of an optimist.

All this could potentially make for enjoyable camp if it were blessed with the right cast who knew not to take the material seriously and instead ham it up like there’s no tomorrow. Sadly, though, this ain’t Morbius, and there is no glorious Matt Smith dancing to be seen. Dakota Johnson as Cassie looks like she wishes she were somewhere else the whole time (and it turns out she did). Tahar Rahim as Sims, the bad guy, has all of his lines mysteriously—and badly—redubbed, perhaps in a vain attempt at making his performance halfway convincing. The three girls are more or less completely indistinguishable, just as they are uniformly unconvincing as teenagers (Sydney Sweeney, the oldest, is 26). The rest of the cast is so unmemorable I’ve forgotten about them entirely, which was perhaps their goal.

Actually, no. You know what, the cat was okay. Hell, maybe they should get it to write the next movie. I think we can all agree it couldn’t do any worse.