Madame Web Sets Up the Perfect Spider-Man Villain, but Squanders It

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As Dakota Johnson’s Cassandra “Cassie” Webb unearths her destiny in Sony’s Madame Web, a lot of it is intrinsically linked to Ezekiel Sims. The villain has immense supernatural talents, which grant him visions of his death in the future. It will come at the hands of three Spider-Women in costumes — the driving narrative of the film.

This gives Ezekiel’s vendetta a purpose that pushes him to use stolen technology to try the find the would-be killers: Julia Cornwall, Anya Corazón and Mattie Franklin. It results in Sims going on a rampage as a dark Spider-Man. While the movie sets Sims up as the perfect antithesis to what fans have seen with Peter Parker, Miles Morales and other heroic wall-crawlers, his potential is unfortunately wasted, and his character is severely undercooked.

Madame Web’s trailers kept a lot about Ezekiel Sims vague, leaving fans to wonder how close he would be to the comic character. Marvel’s Ezekiel Sims debuted in 2001, where he was revealed to be mystically powered by a spider. He went on to find Peter Parker and elaborate on the Spider-People and totems: a concept where spiders, such as the radioactive one that bit Peter, were actually transferring power to avatars.

As time passed, Ezekiel would manipulate Peter, link him to different dimensions and people across the Spider-Verse, and eventually sacrifice his own life. Still, as seen when Ezekiel returned and kept Anya prisoner, he couldn’t be trusted. Even if he felt he was doing the right thing and preventing the likes of Morlun from feeding on totems and taking their power. The movie’s Ezekiel, however, is an amalgam of the comics’ Ezekiel and Morlun. Here, Ezekiel doesn’t shoot webs or move in between realities. But he does have super-speed, the ability to cling to walls, and a very durable body that can take hits. He also looks a lot like Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, but with a black suit, which reflects the morose energy of his mission.

It turns out, Ezekiel was in the Peruvian rainforest as a bodyguard. Unfortunately, he killed Cassie’s researcher mother, Constance, and her camp after they found a magical spider meant to cure illness. In time, Ezekiel would harness this spider’s power for himself, hoping to live as long as possible and defy the odds, science and everything that made him normal. He ends up in New York in 2003, amassing wealth, only for dreams to haunt him in his penthouse. He gets visions of the Spider-Women murdering him, which pushes him to sleep with an NSA agent, kill her and use her secrets to tap into the cameras across New York.

Ezekiel wants to find the Spider-Women before they harness their powers and he is quite intimidating. It’s evidenced in the subway scene where he attacks a slew of cops to get to them. From the way he lurks in the shadows, crawls on walls and roofs, to how he quickly swoops in from the darkness and abducts people, he has that aura of Christian Bale’s Batman. He makes the night a deadly asset, which is why, when Cassie finds the girls, she realizes she has to go back to the roots of Ezekiel’s power: the very place he ended her mother. Clearly, Ezekiel isn’t just a physical opponent, but a cerebral one, too. This initially gives Ezekiel a more psychological edge compared to campy villains found in the other Sony Spider-Man Universe movies: Venom and Morbius.

Ezekiel Sims dons a spider suit in Madame Web

The problem with Ezekiel is that Madame Web quickly turns him into something generic. Ezekiel eventually confirms that he lost his family in some mysterious injustice. As a result, he wants to power up with the spider and change the world. Sadly, that dimension of him is never seen again. Had Ezekiel gone onto a higher calling, wanting to create a better place for minorities he would have been more sympathetic. It would tie into other Spider-Man villains like Mister Negative who used sinister crusades while trying to do some good, and inverted capitalists and masters of industry like Kingpin or Norman Osborn.

The Superman & Lois TV series used this approach with a Bruno Mannheim who didn’t mind being a villain once he could help his community. With Ezekiel knowing he has a greater purpose, audience members would at least have an emotional connection as to why he sees himself as a necessary evil to prevent disaster down the line. The Marvel Cinematic Universe also did this with Thanos and his population control scheme. The MCU also did this with Killmonger, who wanted to punish the world for its colonialist crimes. The DCEU did the same with Conrad Carapax, an evil Iron Man who hated a war-hungry world that killed his family and other innocent civilians.

Instead, Madame Web director, S.J. Clarkson, doesn’t lean much into Ezekiel’s motivation, which would have felt organic to his background. Ezekiel mentioning the “injustice” doled out against his kin ends up being a throwaway line — a squandered arc that could have justified why he needed to protect the empire he built. Even if it meant that his charity work and philanthropy needed innocent blood to be spilled to keep thriving. Playing into this suffering would have subverted the notion of “with great power comes great responsibility,” reminding fans how sometimes, power does corrupt and blind people from the right thing.

As Madame Web’s Ezekiel Sims continues his directive, he uses an aide, Amaria, as the person running his computers. She’s hacking cameras across the Big Apple in his control room, coming off as the Oracle to his Batman. At times, however, she is stunned by how doggedly he pursues and wants to kill the young women. Yet, she and Ezekiel never have that discussion regarding his nightmares and if crossing these moral and ethical lines for things that haven’t happened makes sense.

This would have layered Ezekiel with more nuance, holding up a mirror to reflect the monster he has become. Flashbacks to his family, especially his mother (as this is a story about mothers’ love), would have helped build his duality and the conflict within — something that made Carapax resonate a lot in BlueBeetle. It comes to a boil in a key sequence when he and Cassie lock minds, and she asks what has he done with this power. He doesn’t even have a proper answer, which leaves the character feeling flat. There isn’t anything to make Cassie pity him or realize he is a lost soul that she can try to redeem and change his mind.

Hearing him say how he is the cure for a poisoned, elitist society would have been apt, given a spider’s toxin didn’t just empower him, but also, Cassie when her dying mother gave birth. It would speak to the idea of a twisted villain purging society, without understanding he has become the very thing he despises. Mattie’s parents being snobbish wealthy people alone is a foundation for Ezekiel to keep thinking he has enemies in the making that he needs to be proactive about, even if his judgment is clouded and has him chasing targets who really aren’t fated to hunt him. At least, not until he precipitates their journeys with his misguided hunt. This way, Ezekiel would learn about how his rage creates dire consequences.

Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim) folds his arms in Madame Web

Ultimately, Ezekiel’s brief history and what he turns into end up being very incongruous plot threads woven by the time MadameWeb ends. Had they been untangled better in streamlined storyline, Ezekiel would have felt complete. It would have inevitably produced a nemesis with a skewed sense of humanity, who Cassie would be heartbroken to kill in the name of revenge or justice.

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