It’s a tough time to be a comic book movie fan right now. After nearly 15 years of pop culture dominance, the genre finally hit a wall in 2023, with the once-mighty MCU stumbling with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and then crashing with the soulless, inept failure of The Marvels. The latter’s terrible reception was nothing compared to the nonstop disaster that was DC’s film slate, with Shazam! Fury of the Gods, The Flash, Blue Beetle, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom each delivering progressively worse entries into a universe that had already been tossed out by its corporate owners.
It wasn’t all bad though, thanks to the surprisingly touching franchise sendoff Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and the spectacular animated sequel Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. But cinematic superheroes weren’t as invulnerable as in years past, and everyone — fans, critics, actors, even studio execs — seemed to need a break from them.
There’s still money to be made with comic book movies, however, and while 2024 won’t see as many releases as 2023, there’s still the usual Marvel sequel (Deadpool 3), quick Sony cash-in (Kraven), and needlessly dark DC film (Joker: Folie à Deux) on the schedule. All of these movies have differing odds of succeeding, but there’s one movie just around the corner that’s sure to fail: Sony’s Madame Web. Why? Here are five reasons why this quasi-Spider-Man spinoff will be the latest comic book movie disaster.
Dakota Johnson can’t carry a movie
Sorry, internet: Dakota Johnson just isn’t the star you think she is. The Queen of Memes gives a great interview, and she’ll always be famous for her takedown of Ellen DeGeneres on the latter’s talk show in 2019, but that doesn’t mean she can carry a movie. No one with a straight face can argue the Fifty Shades movies are any good, even as bad camp, and her recent star turns in The High Note and Persuasion weren’t exactly, pardon the pun, persuasive.
Sure, she’s given some fine performances over the years in movies like A Bigger Splash, Bad Times at the El Royale, and The Lost Daughter, but she didn’t have to carry those films. In Madame Web, she’s front and center as the titular character, and needs to be charismatic and interesting enough to engage the audience for two hours. After viewing the film’s first trailer, she can’t even hold one’s attention for 3 minutes, let alone 120. There are some actors, like Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland, who were born to play this kind of role; Johnson just isn’t, and while that’s OK for the actress, it spells trouble for Madame Web.
It’s already being mocked for its awful dialogue
Let’s talk more about that trailer, shall we? Released on November 15, 2023, it gave a first glimpse of what the movie is about: spiders (obviously), seeing into the future (okayyyy), and ambulance driving (wait, what?). The trailer was a bit underwhelming, but it did show some promise in teaming up four spider-heroines to battle a kinda-known Spider-Man villain, Ezekiel.
That promise, however, was undermined by the movie’s godawful dialogue, which was quickly picked apart and mocked on Twitter. In particular, Johnson’s delivery of this chestnut was widely razzed: “[Ezekiel] was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died.” Oof. There’s a lot of clunky exposition packed in that line, and combined with Johnson’s flat delivery (can she sound more bored?), it suggests the movie is going to be less Spider-Man: No Way Home and more Morbius. It’s usually a good thing when a movie goes viral months before its release, but in Madame Web‘s case, it’s not.
There shouldn’t be a Madame Web movie in the first place
Of all the Marvel heroes Sony has the rights to film, why on Earth did they decide Madame Web was worthy of her own movie? The character initially appealed in Marvel Comics in the 1980s as a supporting character who showed up from time to time without much consequence. The things that made her unique — she was one of the rare elderly, paralyzed, and blind superheroes — were gradually stripped away in the last two decades as she was made younger, more able-bodied, and more like every other Spider hero.
From the looks of it, Madame Web isn’t even a Madame Web movie at all; it’s really a Spider-Women movie, with characters such as Julia Carpenter and Mattie Franklin taking more of a central role. I don’t have a problem with that, but why shoehorn it into a Madame Web movie, and strip away all of the character’s distinctive qualities? The end result feels bland, and in an increasingly tough moviegoing environment for superheroes, that’s as deadly as the Scorpion’s sting.
Comic book movie fatigue is real and here to stay
MADAME WEB – Official Trailer (HD)
People have been complaining about comic book movie fatigue since … well, since Iron Man 2 came out. Yet those complaints grew louder, and gained more credibility, last year, as one movie after another, not to mention one mediocre MCU Disney+ show after another, was met with negative reviews and audience indifference. It wasn’t enough to belong to a multiverse anymore, or even to be tangentially related to a more popular character — comic book movies had to offer something new or exiting, or risk low box office grosses.
This was probably long overdue, and when looking back, you wonder just how the heck did Captain Marvel make over $1 billion in 2019, but the point is, movies that are justOK, like that one, or outright bad like Morbius, won’t cut it anymore. And there’s no mistaking that Madame Web was developed and made in a now-bygone era when mediocrity could still be sold to the masses; all you needed was a bright Marvel logo and a post-credits scene that would tease a sliver of a connection to a better, more popular movie or character. Madame Web, like every other comic book movie in 2024 and beyond, needs to stand on its own merits, but it doesn’t seem to have much to entice anyone into its middling web.
Sony seems embarrassed that Madame Web is about superheroes
It’s never a good sign when the marketing for a movie tries to hide what it’s actually about. In the early stages of its ad campaign, Sony appeared to hide the fact that Madame Web was about evil webslingers, heroic Spider-Women, or superheroes at all. Just look at the two posters above, which prioritize Dakota Johnson and the “regular” personas of the heroes and villains in the movie.
This bizarre approach would be understanding if Johnson was a more recognizable name (she isn’t) or if the characters involved were more popular with the general audience (they aren’t), but to launch a major movie campaign with your lead actress staring blankly into the horizon isn’t a great sign of confidence that this movie is actually good. Recent posters and commercials have done a better job of showcasing the movie’s fantastical elements, but there’s a sense that Sony is a bit too little, too late in making Madame Web a must-see event.
Madame Web hits theaters on February 16.