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The Most Misunderstood Marvel Movie of the Decade

And (shockingly) it’s the #1 film on Netflix.

Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb in Madame Web
Sony Pictures

Is Madame Web a self-aware camp classic, or a spectacular overestimation of Sony’s Spider-Verse? It all depends on who you ask. From a box office standpoint, the 2024 film didn’t make Sony’s nascent franchise any more viable; it’s the lowest-grossing film based on a Marvel character, ever. The box-office and critical reception was so bad, that the failure of Madame Web might have Sony reevaluating its plans for the universe: the studio was reportedly building a handful of spin-offs around Dakota Johnson’s unlikely heroine but might have pulled the plug since.

But perhaps time will be kind to Madame Web. Or rather, maybe Madame Web was never destined to find its audience as a movie theater blockbuster tentpole. Instead, it’s the kind of film that you watch watches with friends and forget a day later. Studios are now hungrier than ever for the next big phenomenon, the film that’s going to reshape the world. Madame Web was never going to be that, because it belongs to a bygone era, one where mid-budget chick flicks and low-risk cult classics had just as much pull as superhero tentpoles. It straddles those two worlds to varying success. Sure, it flopped at the box office, but it’s been getting a much warmer reception with the help of a platform like Netflix.

You could argue that Madame Web might have had more success if it’d begun its life on a streaming service. It has all the “so bad it’s good” spectacle of a straight-to-streaming guilty pleasure — the kind that Netflix has always specialized in — and all the accidental humor of a 2000s-era sleepover movie. Dakota Johnson stars at the eponymous hero, notably before she actually becomes her. One of Madame Web’s biggest flaws is in its scope: the film lays the groundwork for an exciting future full of Spider-Women... but it never actually shows us how anyone goes from mild-mannered young adult to fully-fledged superhero.

Take Johnson’s Cassandra Webb. When we first meet the unlikely heroine, she’s a snarky EMT with a few commitment issues. That started with her late mother, who passed away shortly after giving birth to Cassie while researching spiders in the Amazon. Her work will be pretty important to Cassie’s future as a superhero — but she won’t gain the necessary perspective until a nearly fatal experience grants her clairvoyance. Cassie gains the ability to replay other similar scenarios, Final Destination-style, and eventually uses that newfound gift to protect a trio of teen girls from an evil Spider-Person known as Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim).

Though Ezekiel sports a spidey suit and possesses some of his powers, he isn’t actually Spider-Man. As Madame Web takes place in 2004 (a choice highlighted by some delightfully awkward pop culture references), Peter Parker hasn’t actually become New York’s friendly neighborhood wallcrawler... though the film goes to great lengths to tee up a new version of the hero. In a perfect world, Madame Web might have kick-started an all-new Spider-Verse, one that a new Spider-Man could swing in and out of. Unfortunately, that’s probably never going to happen, as Madame Web’s reception seems to have tanked any interest in a follow-up.

Madame Web could be written off as a chick flick, but it also represents a genre that’s slowly regaining favor.

Sony Pictures

It’d have been nice, albeit unnecessary, to see Cassie’s adventures continue beyond her first outing. Madame Web is just as cringe-worthy as its biggest haters say, but it’s not without its bright spots. If nothing else, the film is a fun superhero movie for female fans, embracing ideals of girl power and sisterhood without rehashing the same on-the-nose platitudes as its predecessors. Sure, it’s not reinventing the wheel... but does every comic book adaptation have to be an event?

Sometimes it’s refreshing to catch a low-stakes, CGI-laden buddy film; ironically, that’s something that Sony’s Spider-Verse has mastered. They can’t all be winners, but Madame Web’s success on Netflix proves that the superhero industrial complex could do with a little perspective. In another era, this movie was destined to become a cult classic, traded back and forth as a battered VHS tape. Today, Netflix is the next best thing.

Madame Web is now streaming on Netflix.

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