It might be time to reassess Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. The universe, as you will be aware, exists thanks to the deal that Sony made with Marvel to get Spider-Man back into the MCU. Basically, the deal means that Marvel can make Spider-Man movies for Sony, and Sony can make Spider-Man movies for Sony, but none of Sony’s Spider-Man films can have Spider-Man in them. Makes sense, right?
When it was first announced, it may have seemed like Sony had caught the raw end of the bargain. Constructing an entire cinematic universe around bit parts and cameos, while being contractually forbidden from using the gravitational force that helped keep them interesting, sounded like a fool’s errand. Watching something like Venom (in which a key Spider-Man villain just sort of wandered around wondering what to do without Spider-Man) felt like the logical end point of capitalism. Watching Morbius (in which a Spider-Man villain that nobody had heard of tried to justify his own existence for an hour and a half), meanwhile, felt like watching capitalism drive itself off a cliff in a burning truck. No good could ever come of the whole sorry project.
But now I’ve changed my mind, because now I have watched the trailer for Madame Web – the latest instalment in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe – and now I think I get it. The whole thing is meant to be bad. That’s the only logical explanation for any of this.
Madame Web stars Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Webb, a paramedic who gains the gift of clairvoyance after falling into a river, and starts to see visions of an evil Spider-Man (contractually not Spider-Man, just a guy in a vaguely Spider-Mannish suit) who keeps trying to kill her and the band of Strong Female Characters whom she seems to share a patch of woodland with.
But it’s OK, because Cassandra knows the secret identity of the evil Spider-Man, because he was in the Amazon with her mom when she was researching spiders just before she died. And we know this because Cassandra identifies him by saying “he was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders just before she died” as a real piece of dialogue that exists in an actual big-budget Hollywood movie that was written by a human.
And more than anything, this is the line that should tip you off about the secret plot to make Sony’s Spider-Man Universe as deliberately bad as it can possibly be. The memes generated by this line alone could power cities. There are memes where “he was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders just before she died” is the final line of Chinatown. There are memes where Darth Vader says “he was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders just before she died” to Luke Skywalker and Luke Skywalker howls in anguish. There are memes where George W Bush hears the line “he was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders just before she died” on the morning of September 11. There are many, many memes of Dakota Johnson telling Ellen DeGeneres that “he was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders just before she died”.
A line like “he was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders just before she died” barely even counts as a line. It’s a great big wink to the audience that you’re supposed to hate Madame Web. The whole thing was designed from top to bottom purely so you could hate it. Because from hatred comes obscurity. And from obscurity comes affection. And from affection comes cult fandom. This has to be the intended goal.
Sony has form here. Look at how quickly it pivoted with Venom, taking a truly inept movie and then making a sequel – 2021’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage – that effectively operated as an outright parody of the first film. Look how it reacted to the commercial failure of Morbius, by seeing that it had become a target of open mockery on the internet and then literally rereleasing it back into cinemas just so people could go and mock it as a collective.
As readjustments go, Sony’s realisation that all its non-Spider-Man Spider-Man films are terrible is up there with Tommy Wiseau declaring that his emotional labour of love The Room was actually a comedy after its first screening. We now find ourselves in a position where nobody on Earth will go to see Madame Web in the hope that it will be a good film. They’ll go to see it drunk with their friends, just so that they can ironically whoop when Dakota Johnson says “he was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders just before she died”. Maybe they’ll even throw things at the screen. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll be a great night out. Perhaps Sony knows what it is doing after all.