Madame Web review | What did Sony expect to happen?

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Sony’s latest superhero flick is so dull its own marketing team have given up on it. Here’s our Madame Web review.

If you’ve seen one piece of marketing released in advance of Madame Web’s cinema debut, I would advise you to ignore it.

Back when the first trailer for Dakota Johnson’s turn on the superhero spin wheel emerged in November last year, the internet had a good chuckle at the strangely incoherent line: “He was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died”. This line, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, has been cut from the finished film.

Then, this week, a different “clip” emerged of Johnson’s Cassandra Webb attempting to rescue a trapped member of the public from an inverted car. This attracted similar levels of ridicule, this time for some bizarre editing choices which made the incredibly frenetic encounter unintelligible. On the big screen, this scene is edited completely normally. It’s not particularly exciting, but at least it makes sense.

Meanwhile, as critics and Twitter trolls alike have been gleefully sharpening their pencils in anticipation, Johnson herself has delivered an interview junket in which she masterfully hints at a complete contempt for the film she’s just made while doing little that could actually get her in trouble with Sony’s lawyers.

I don’t believe Madame Web is as incompetently put together as all this implies. It is not a Cats-level fiasco, a so-bad-it’s-good popcorn movie to make us giggle at the hubris of the moviemaking endeavour. It’s not an attempt at an interesting idea that swung and missed. Instead, a studio spent $80m on Madame Web because it realised it had the rights to the most popular character in comic book history and the logic of releasing another superhero flick was easier to explain to investors than taking a shot at making a piece of art.

I’m sure plenty of people involved in the project, once it had been greenlit, worked their arses off to turn the corporate exercise into an entertaining film. The adage goes that it takes just as much work to make a bad movie as a good one (and make no mistake, Madame Web is a bad movie) and it’s impossible to know what combination of factors churned the minute-to-minute oddity of Madame Web out of the editing room. Sure, no two characters ever feel like they’re delivering lines in the same room, none of the dialogue makes sense, and the story has all the emotional logic of a radiator. But that’s hardly unusual. It’s not even anyone’s fault. Sometimes, bad movies happen.

Once Sony realised what its investment had bought, however, it doesn’t seem to have had the confidence to back up its investment with an honest marketing campaign. Fanning the flames of cult “so bad it’s good” territory, they seem to be doing their best to replicate the “it’s morbin’ time” meme which persuaded them to release Morbius twice in cinemas.

There is a universe – an alternate timeline, perhaps, or the multiversal strand where Ant-Man And The Wasp won Best Picture – where Madame Webb has nothing to do with superheroes. That version of the film is probably still bad, but at least it’s honestly so. To make a noughties-soundtracked New York noir with an awkward, future-sleuthing paramedic at the centre at least feels like an idea someone, somewhere, thought might make a good movie.

In our universe, though, Sony’s latest attempt to capitalise on its share of the Spider-Man film rights is a disaster retrofitted from an ideas drought. After cooking up a pitch in a boardroom in Hollywood’s ongoing attempt to de-risk the movie business, Madame Web seems to have been thrown onto a creative team whose work is now being ridiculed by the same investors who refused to make their more interesting ideas in the first place.

The star rating at the end of this review isn’t just down to the quality of the film. Madame Web is terrible, of course, but then terrible movies come out all the time. But when $80m is being spent on a cynical, franchise-hunting cash grab which no one involved actually seems to have wanted to make… It’s hard to justify a second star.

Don’t watch Madame Web. If the movies are going to survive as a cultural force, Hollywood needs to make better stuff than this.

Madame Web is out in UK cinemas now.

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