Reviews- Madame Web, Dumb Money


Madame Web is not the dud that critics have been making it out to be, it’s a perfectly enjoyable and sometimes tense thriller that can be enjoyed even if like me you don’t know the intricacies of Spiderverse lore. It is true to say though that the premise would be more suited to the nuances of a TV series and can come across as sluggish in this format. That said, when the film does ramp up it does include a couple of stand out action sequences.


We start in Peru in 1973 where pregnant Constance Webb is looking for rare spiders but doesn’t realise her fellow explorer Ezekiel Sims is actually on his own quest. I suppose alarm bells should have rung when she looked at his first name! Though she dies, her daughter is born courtesy of a mysterious race of spider people and we meet her again in 2003 where she works as a paramedic in New York. After an accident she starts to experience what at first seem like nightmares but actually turn out to be visions of traumatic events about to happen. Still struggling to cope with this, she is thrown into a scenario with three seemingly random girls who actually have a connection to her and are being targeted by none other than Ezekial. He, too, has these visions and believe the trio will, with spider related powers, kill him so he aims to dispose of them first. The rest of the film sees Cassie and the girls trying to escape and outwit their pursuer.

The results have a distinct Terminator vibe not least because of Ezekiel’s relentless, unstoppable drive. He is dressed in a familiar but all dark Spiderman costume and , crawls, leaps and doggedly pursues them whatever is thrown in his way. The threat is very visceral, and it does make a refreshing change not to have characters firing energy beams aplenty; instead both sides have to utilise what is around them.  So it plays more like a thriller than a comic book film. The action is well assembled including two excellent sequences. The initially frenzied encounter between Cassandra and the girls as they first realise the menace on the train becomes an extended chase packed with incident and clever use of the locations. Later on the movie climaxes with a terrific confrontation in, around and on top of old dockside buildings. This is director SJ Clarkson’s first big screen feature having had a career on some superb UK tv shows and she rises to the occasion with sharp action.

A director and cast are only as strong as the story they have to tell and it is the case that Madame Web takes a long time to kick off properly. While Ezekiel is an effective antagonist in the action sequences, as a character his motivations are less distinct. It never occurs to him that the danger to his life is because of what he himself may do yet its not clear what he really does except hire someone (who is she?) to hack into all the security cameras in the city. Cassandra is played with a snarky air by Dakota Johnson, an interesting choice which I rather like but which seems to be one of the aspects of the film that irked the critics. Yet despite her outward appearance she is a caring person and cannot abandon the girls even though she might wish. 

The trio she has to look after- played by Celeste O’Connor, Sydney Sweeney and Isabela Merced - are just about able to define their characters in the running time. They successfully avoid the cliched teenage mode with a minimum of faux street talk though there is slight repetition when they each reveal their difficult backgrounds. They are all outsiders and perhaps that does lean into cliché. Can happy individuals ever become superheroes?  It does feel like we are being set up for sequels as the girls don’t assume their spider identities here so presumably another film (unlikely to happen after this film’s reception) would show us that?

Something that perhaps overexcited fans is the connection with Spiderman which isn’t overplayed except for the fact that the Peruvian spider people sport skins very similar to that of our friendly neighbourhood hero a coincidence that jars with various Spiderman origin films showing Peter Parker making his first costumes. 

There’s been a lot of talk of superhero fatigue and I think there is some truth in that but Madame Web is actually an example that offers a different slant on the genre and it rarely looks like the generic superhero film we’ve grown used to. In some of the reviews and comments I’ve read there’s also an air of misogyny in the response to the very idea that a big movie can be carried by a quartet of female characters and it may be that in the superhero world that is too much for the target audience. That says more about the public than it does about any particular film. I’ve never seen a film written off so quickly not just by critics and audiences but also by the studios who are already distancing themselves from it.  It could just be that this is the wrong time for Madame Web and that in years to come it will become more appreciated for what it is rather than what people want it to be. Why not go see it and make up your own mind?



Dumb Money is the derogatory term given by Wall Street to public investors and Craig Gillespie’s film dramatizes the true story of how an online investor spooked the market in 2021. Keith Gill- known by his streaming handle Roaring Kitty- believed that the shares of Gamestop, a video game company were being artificially undervalued (sold short) so he started buying them. As he broadcast this ad the prices began to rise so more of his followers also bought shares sending the price soaring and causing considerable alarm. This is a David and Goliath tale of the little man taking on the corporate giants and potentially losing them billions despite their efforts to fight back.

You wouldn’t necessarily imagine the story would make an engaging film however Gillespie’s approach is to cast his net wide encompassing the stories of several other investors who bought shares and what happened to them. There are winners and losers and it adds a human dimension to what would otherwise be a drama full of people staring at screens or talking on the phone. There is a real tension that develops as people weigh up whether to sell or not especially when their profits start to rack up. On the other side of the fence we see the initial dismissive complacency of the professional slowly being replaced by concern and then panic as bankruptcy looms. Brokerage services halt the sale of the shares which leads to values falling again potentially losing all the monies people have made. So; do they sell or not?

The film underlines what has always seemed to me a bizarre way to run economic matters based as much on the `mood` of the market which is artificially created by the machinations of a small but hugely influential coterie of very rich people rather than anything more practical.

Visually being set in 2021 seems to help the mood and you could imagine that something like this would not have had the effect it did had everyone not been so glued to their screens during the pandemic. The face masks and references to Covid remind us of just what a strange time that was.

Most of the characters we see never meet on screen and because of the period when it’s set even the later investigation takes place remotely. To make the movie as authentic as possible Gillespie also uses real news footage of the time and, when it comes to the government hearing, actual film of questions being asked which is then answered verbatim by the actors. The film makes no attempt to portray Gill as either good or bad, he is as surprised as anyone when his actions create an economic juggernaut. We even see that online he streamed with his actual balance sheets on screen in the background as transparency. Played by the ever versatile Paul Dano he is someone  we can admire for making a stand. A great cast ensure this is always more than a drama documentary with especially good performances from Shailene Woodley as Keith’s wife and Pete Davidson as his wayward brother. A different and absorbing tale well told.


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