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Warning: This post contains spoilers for Madame Web.

Three Spider-Man movies are hitting theaters in 2024, but none of those three movies are actually about Spider-Man—or even feature the friendly neighborhood web-slinger as a character at all. Madame Web, which is now in theaters, is an entry in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe, a collection of films that take full advantage of the studio’s ownership of Spidey film rights even as the main character is primarily making live-action appearances in the Disney-owned Marvel Cinematic Universe where Tom Holland plays him.

And yet, Madame Web, like Morbius before it, and presumably like this year’s upcoming Kraven the Hunter and another Venom sequel after it, does have connections to Spider-Man. Madame Web’s connections to Spider-Man are quite explicit, but the film is not seemingly connected to any established version of Spider-Man that viewers might already be familiar with. Here’s a spoiler-filled explanation of how Madame Web fits in the complex, well, web of Spider-Man movies.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Madame Web

There’s no Spider-Man, but there is Peter Parker (kind of)

MADAME WEB
Johnson, decidedly not an elderly lady, in Madame WebCourtesy of Sony Pictures

Madame Web’s title character is a woman with the power to see the future who is a blind elderly woman in the comics and is played by Dakota Johnson (neither blind nor elderly) in the movie. (Her comic book origin story and background are hardly required reading for this heavily reimagined version of the character.) A paramedic living in New York City in the year 2003 rather than the present day—which is important—Cassie Webb becomes involved in the world of superheroes when she starts getting visions of the future. She must attempt to save three teenage girls played by Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, and Isabela Merced from being murdered by a man named Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), who has connections to Cassie’s dead mother from her days researching spiders in the Amazon before she died (as infamously referenced in the movie’s trailer). Ezekiel has dreams that these three teens, who will become B-list Spider-Women characters from the comic books in some future, will kill him unless he kills them first.

Spider-Man does not exist in the world of Madame Web—or, rather, he doesn’t exist yet. Cassie’s best friend is Ben Parker, Peter Parker’s famous father figure. As played by Adam Scott, this Ben is not quite Uncle Ben yet, but his sister Mary (Emma Roberts) is pregnant with Peter. (The woman who will become Aunt May is alluded to as somebody Ben’s started seeing but is not named or seen, and Peter’s dad Richard is similarly unseen, as he’s away on business.)

The movie ends with Ezekiel’s final confrontation with Cassie and the three teens while Mary is giving birth. The bad guy nearly blows up the car that they’re all in while Ben is driving them to the hospital but Cassie saves the day—and in doing so saves the future Spider-Man. Ben, the man who will eventually raise Peter and teach him about great power and great responsibility, is present for Peter’s birth. Peter’s name is conspicuously, deliberately, never clearly said in the movie, but we all know that’s Peter Parker. 

When one of the teens notes that Ben’s going to have all the fun of having a baby without any of the responsibility because he’s an uncle rather than a father, Cassie quips that she wouldn’t be so sure of that. It’s a fun little nod to his future, but it also implies that Cassie knows that Peter’s birth parents are going to die. Grim!

Presumably, in 16 or so years after the end of the movie, baby Peter Parker will have grown up and he’ll get bit by a radioactive spider and Ben will be murdered, leading to his crime-fighting career. Never mind that, according to the fiction of Madame Web, there might already be four spider-themed superheroes already active by the time Peter comes of age. All of the Spider-Women characters (Julia Cornwall, Mattie Franklin, and Anya Corazon) gained their Spidey-like powers through different, unrelated means than Peter Parker did in the comics. But, all of them were so clearly inspired by the original Spider-Man—both in fiction and in reality—that it feels a little odd to have them fighting crime in costumes that resemble Spider-Man’s.

The future version of Spider-Man, Madame Web suggests, will grow up in a world where his uncle was nearly killed by a villain with spider powers wearing what essentially looks like an evil Spider-Man suit. In Madame Web’s world, Spider-Man—the original Web-Slinger—is derivative. But that doesn’t matter so much because Madame Web is functionally in its own continuity.

Madame Web is not connected to the MCU or any other Spider-Verse (…kind of)

MADAME WEB
Ezekiel (Tahar Rahim) in Madame Web.Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

Having Peter Parker appear in the movie but as a baby is hardly the most egregious shoehorning-in of Spider-Man in one of Sony’s Spider-Man-less cinematic universe. The trailer for Morbius features shots of the title character walking by Spider-Man graffiti that is not actually there in the final film and was inserted just to stir up false hope that Morbius would have a real Spider-Man connection. (That film’s post-credits sequence brings the MCU’s Vulture into the Morbius world, and he seems to have a grudge against Spider-Man despite there being no evidence that he really exists in this universe.) Spider-Man doesn’t seem to exist within the world of the Venom movies but the titular Symbiote knows who he is thanks to multiversal connections, and Tom Hardy’s character briefly travels to the MCU due to the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Madame Web is different because it implies that Spider-Man will indeed exist in this film’s universe, as the film is set in 2003 and Peter Parker has been born. However, while the film’s choice of time period makes it conceivable that it could act as a prequel to another established Spider-Man spin-off universe, the facts don’t quite fit. It’s certainly not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which, again, is owned by Disney rather than Sony, the studio behind Madame Web). Dakota Johnson is not running around a world in which Captain America and Tony Stark exist. There’s no evidence that Madame Web or the three Spider-Women—none of whom have actually obtained their superpowers by the time the film ends—exist in what would be Morbius or Venom’s past, but there’s not really any evidence they don’t exist, either. That makes Madame Web functionally a standalone film regardless of its theoretical potential to be a prequel.

And yet, technically Madame Web is part of the larger Spider-Man cinematic multiverse—which is set to continue with a third Venom movie and a Kraven the Hunter film in Sony’s films, another animated Spider-Verse film, and there’s talk that Tom Holland might return for a fourth Spider-Man film in the Disney-owned MCU canon. Madame Web doesn’t directly connect to any other Spider movies, past or future, but it easily could. Between Across the Spider-Verse (which featured a live-action cameo from a Venom actor) and Spider-Man: No Way Home bringing Andrew Garfield and Toby Maguire’s Spider-Men into the MCU’s continuity, there’s lots of precedent for any and all Spider-Man content to be just a multiversal portal and a crossover away from being canon. So, while Madame Web doesn’t have any real connections to any other Spider-Man movie, it’s not not connected to them. You don’t need to have Madame Web’s ability to see the future to understand Spider-Man movies, but it would certainly help.

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