Tahar Rahim as Ezekiel Sims in 'Madame Web'

The Villain in ‘Madame Web’ Is Just Some Guy, I Guess

I had a lot of thoughts while watching Madame Web, Sony’s latest attempt to capitalize on its tenuous grasp of Spider-Man as well as its prized association with Marvel Studios. Thoughts such as: Dakota Johnson would never drink a Mountain Dew, let alone the Code Red varietal. And: Wow, that is an impressive amount of ADR. But mostly: Wait, who’s this villain guy again? Why is he here?

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Before I can even begin trying to answer that question, I should probably give a quick rundown on what Madame Web is about. It’s a movie about Peter Parker’s uncle’s friend, Cassie Webb (Johnson), an emergency medical services tech whose mom died in the Amazon while researching spiders—a line that isn’t in the actual movie, which is bizarre considering the amount of dead air in this thing. After a title card proudly boasts “IN ASSOCIATION WITH … MARVEL STUDIOS” (big pick me energy, Sony), we watch Cassie’s mom (Kerry Bishé) as she hunts for special spiders in the Amazon with some guy named Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), who, as it turns out, wants the special spiders for himself. So he kills the research team and leaves Cassie’s mom for dead—but then the spider-people come down from the trees and, in a scene that recalls Twilight in the worst way, carry her through the forest and into a cave with a special pool of water. They let a spider bite Cassie’s mom, who gives birth to Cassie and promptly dies.

Back in Madame Web‘s present—2003, for some reason—Cassie’s latent spidey-powers emerge after a near-death experience, and now she has what I can only describe as Final Destination Disorder; she has premonitions of violent deaths before they occur. These visions lead her to three teen girls who are also orphans in their own right: Julia Cornwall (Sydney Sweeney, hilariously pretending to be hideous in a pair of glasses), Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Connor), and Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced). Cassie becomes their den mother, protecting them from Ezekiel, who is using the special spider venom to be an evil Spider-Man. Ezekiel also has visions, but in his, the three Powerpuff Girls are badass Spider-Heroes who murder him, and they must be STOPPED.

Evil Spider-Man also has a tech-savvy sidekick played by Zosia Mamet, who spends the entire runtime sitting at a computer desk and saying, “I got a hit” while the era-appropriate ball chain necklaces around her neck keep multiplying, both literally (hilarious) and figuratively (sad).

When the climactic fight scene finally begins, the teens are running around a giant Pepsi Co. sign on a rooftop because they aren’t superheroes yet—they don’t know how to fight or even defend themselves because the only thing Mother Webb had time to teach them was CPR. They also don’t know anything about the spider-people (los arañas, which sounds hilarious coming out of Dakota Johnson’s mouth, when it isn’t full of her own hair) or that a spider is responsible for Cassie’s powers. These are things for a sequel to deal with—except, whoops, that’s never going to happen.

Meanwhile, as I watch these women flail for their lives while Cassie tries to get a grip on her Final Destination disorder and a man in a black Spider-Man costume chases them around with murderous intent, all I can think is: Who the hell is this guy?

Here’s what Madame Web tells us about Ezekiel Sims: He was with Cassie’s mom in the Amazon when she was researching spiders when she died. THAT’S IT. Okay, if you must know more: He took a magic spider from Peru (in the Amazon), let it bite him, and got some special abilities—namely, he can climb walls and ceilings and has a recurring premonition about three Spider-Women killing him 10 years from now. But, like, who is he? Does he work for someone? In the Amazon, he takes out a little spy camera and snaps pics of the spider research. But for whom? We see that he lives in a high-rise condo, so he’s obviously wealthy, but did he get money from his spider-powers? And how? And to what end?

Ezekiel is literally just SOME DUDE who wanted spider-powers, so he got them. In the narrative of Madame Web, of which there is not much, Ezekiel serves no purpose. Because in the writing of Madame Web, of which, again, there is not much, he exists only because the movie needs a bad guy. He has no real motivations or desires outside of preventing these women from killing him someday. He does not have a job or vested interests, nor does he appear to have any hobbies. He’s not interesting in any way. In a certain light, this might be the most realistic element in Madame Web: he’s just some loser guy who wants to kill women because he’s scared of them. With better writing, you could have something approaching thematic relevance, perhaps in a Marvel TV series like the one Madame Web director S.J. Clarkson previously worked on: Jessica Jones.

Unfortunately, Madame Web is not particularly well-written. Exposition isn’t dumped, per se, it just sort of falls out of a character’s mouth like Liz Lemon in that episode of 30 Rock where she gets Botox and starts crying out of her mouth. It feels like someone fed ChatGPT a bunch of data on branding and demographics and asked it to write a script. What do women want in a superhero movie? Unopened cans of Pepsi, Britney Spears, and bangs. Our hero doesn’t even have a compelling character arc. Cassie goes from being the most boring person you’ve ever met to the most annoying one—who says “gesundheit” two seconds before you sneeze.

And I know this is supposed to be a movie about female empowerment, so the stupid bad guy and his motives are sort of besides the point—except Madame Web doesn’t really have one of those to begin with.

(featured image: Sony Pictures)


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Author
Britt Hayes
Britt Hayes (she/her) is an editor, writer, and recovering film critic with over a decade of experience. She has written for The A.V. Club, Birth.Movies.Death, and The Austin Chronicle, and is the former associate editor for ScreenCrush. Britt's work has also been published in Fangoria, TV Guide, and SXSWorld Magazine. She loves film, horror, exhaustively analyzing a theme, and casually dissociating. Her brain is a cursed tomb of pop culture knowledge.