Madame Web Broke The Golden Rule Of Superhero Movie Villains Marvel Spent 20 Years Protecting

Split image of Ezekiel Sims in and out of costume in Madame Web

Madame Web has drawn a lot of criticism since its release, but one of the most egregious mistakes it made was breaking a 20-year-old Marvel movie villain rule. Madame Web remains one of the worst-rated superhero movies, all but sealing the fate of Sony’s languishing Spider-Man Universe. Much of the blame for this state of affairs is leveled at the script, penned by the same writers who wrote Morbius. While Morbius was lambasted upon release, however, it at least handled its arch-villain, Milo, with a greater level of respect and nuance.

Madame Web details the origin story of Cassandra Web, indulging in ample creative liberties in adapting her comic book origins. The presence of the movie’s villain, Ezekiel Sims, is one of the most notable of these, as the movie transforms him into an out-and-out villain instead of a positive mentor figure like he is in the comics. While this doesn’t necessarily warrant criticism in itself, Madame Web failed in every conceivable way to justify his villainy, even at face value.

Madame Web’s Villain Has Absolutely No Story, Plan Or Origin

Ezekiel Sims on the train in 2024's Madame Web

Aside from repeatedly stating that he “came from nothing,” Ezekiel Sims reveals very little about his origins – making it exceptionally hard to invest in him as a character. His comic book connection to the mystical side of the Spider-Man mythos is severely underplayed in Sony’s adaptation to the point of being nonexistent. Instead, the arch-villain is portrayed as possessing powers similar to Spider-Man without much elaboration, which he proceeds to employ in several attempts (thwarted by Cassie Webb’s powers of precognition) to murder three teenagers. His motivations entail surviving a vision of his death at their hands.

In Marvel Comics, Ezekiel Sims is a mentor to and protector of Spider-Man, especially in his confrontations with the vampiric villain, Morlun.

While there is a semblance of sympathy to be found in these motivations, the distinct lack of backstory makes it exceptionally hard to see Sims as more than a villain in a suit hellbent on murder. Poorly executed moments of exposition (comprising most of Madame Web‘s worst lines) attempt to elaborate on Sims’ background but fail to deliver any reason to care about Sims or his looming fate. His seemingly vast amount of wealth and excessive homicidal tendencies are just taken for granted, making him about as compelling as the universally panned portrayal of Bane in Batman & Robin.

Marvel’s Rulebook Makes A Good Villain Essential

Loki lets go of spear and falls through a wormhole in space at the end of Thor (2011)

All of this flies in the face of a well-established Marvel movie trope and intensifies the errors of Sony’s ways. Ever since X-Men and Spider-Man launched the genre into the powerhouse it is today, Marvel movie villains have been at least somewhat sympathetic, with the most sympathetic Marvel movie villains being among the franchise’s most iconic. Even if Ezekiel Sims had been a little less blasé about murdering everyone (including a pregnant woman) he might have garnered some level of empathy. Instead, he is infuriatingly one-dimensional.

Even Marvel’s worst cinematic adaptations of classic villains like Malekith or MODOK are capable of surpassing pantomime levels of villainy. Sony has itself shown that even villains with a one-track mind towards violence, like Carnage, can be compelling with enough backstory, while its second-worst-rated movie in the franchise at least had a sympathetic villain in the form of Milo. In its future attempts to portray the origin stories of villains-turned-antiheroes like Kraven the Hunter, the studio should learn from the mistakes encapsulated by Ezekiel Sims in Madame Web – although the prognosis looks bleak.

Madame Web is now streaming on Netflix.

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