The Agony And The Ecstasy Of The ‘Madame Web’ Pan

The Agony And The Ecstasy Of The 'Madame Web' Pan

By Anne T. Donahue

Everything I know about Madame Web can be summed up in the following ways: 1) I know it stars Dakota Johnson, and 2) I know it is being universally panned across the board.

For the record, I’m not a hater. (I mean, I am in general, but not about this specifically, I promise). I don’t partake in Marvel, but if you do, that’s your business. What brings me joy, however, is when the general public can unite under the umbrella of a Very Stupid Thing, and it seems the latest Stupid Thing is Madame Web, which is Into the Spider-Verse adjacent, and has been called the Cats of the superhero cinematic world. This is a joyous occasion; this is what dreams are made of. Do y’all remember Cats? Do you know it still has a firm grip on the culture? (At least, my culture?) Have you really been able to stop thinking about Jellicle Ball? I haven’t. And I won’t.

Madame Web can do for Marvel what Cats did for whatever genre we would categorize Cats under. (Sci-fi? Those feline bodies were not right.)

Despite the scene being reportedly cut from the movie, Madame Web has already entered the meme game. In previews, we were treated to a clip of Dakota Johnson reading a game-changing line with the enthusiasm of me, today, cleaning the garbage out of my car: “He was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died.” Extraordinary. No notes, other than put it back in the movie. My brain is tired and this February’s too long: entertain me with flat dialogue and nonsensical plot points. I want to feel Dakota Johnson phoning it in because she knows she’s collected her Marvel money and she’s going to be fine. I want to read reviews in which critics question the film, its place, and the life trajectory that brought them to the theatre, watching Madame Web. I want to laugh again.

It’s important to collectively dislike a thing without launching into a million think pieces about what it all means. Madame Web really doesn’t mean very much – and that’s okay! Instead, it’s a pop culture reprieve from Super Bowl and Taylor Swift coverage (of which I am guilty of participating) or from pre-Oscars discourse which still has weeks of playing out. It’s an opportunity to read reviews that describe the film’s acting as having “as much energy as an employee subjected to an ice breaker during a corporate retreat,” which only makes me want to see it more. Plus, increased numbers of people have been quiet quitting jobs they don’t find fulfilling or interesting – Madame Web seems to give us Dakota Johnson doing just that in real time.

Obviously hate for the sake of hating is boring and unoriginal. (See: when people mindlessly hate boy bands or popstars just because.) But to hate something expensive and larger-than-life and a piece that will not be mentally or emotionally affected by our hate is an important component to the cultural exchange. We can’t like everything, and I’ll be damned if something I don’t like for topical reasons that do not matter will go quietly into the dark night. Nobody’s mad at Dakota or Sydney Sweeney or anything who shows up in Madame Web; nobody’s mad at all (or at least they shouldn’t be, because it’s Madame Web, for heaven’s sake). This is the best-case scenario for a movie that’s just hit 16% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Which brings us all back to Cats: it was an abomination that should never, ever be made again. But it has to exist, and I’m glad that it does because making fun of something so ridiculous is a friendship-maker. It’s joke fodder. It’s whatever the scene of Tobey Maguire dancing as Venom circa 2003 has become (iconic, important, a cultural mainstay). It’s what will keep us afloat until the next stupid thing we don’t like and inevitably end up canonizing it – or at least Dakota Johnson’s line readings.

Need a little more Anne? Read more from Anne T. Donahue right here!

Tags: Anne T. Donahue, Madame Web, top story, topstory

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