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Madame Web: Is Sony’s Spider-Man Universe a Flawed Idea?

Sony insists on building a Spider-Man universe…without Spider-Man. Is this approach tired, and how can they improve?

Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson) wielding her psychic powers in Madame Web (2024)
Dakota Johnson in Madame Web (2024). Credit: YouTube/Sony Picture Entertainment

The historic deal between Sony and Disney/Marvel Studios that allowed Spider-Man to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War was a huge breakthrough for Marvel’s flagship franchise. However, Sony didn’t give full authorship to Marvel Studios to old Spidey. The movie-making business is a business, and giving up a guaranteed money-making asset like Spider-Man would be a foolish move.

So, while the MCU integrated Peter Parker into their world, Sony announced they’d do spin-off films with Spider-Man-related characters without the involvement of Marvel. This venture, now dubbed Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (SSU), has yielded mixed results, to put it kindly. While films focusing on Venom, 2018’s Venom and 2021’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage were modest financial successes and have certain fans, Morbius (2022) is much mocked, and its most recent entry has followed its predecessor’s suit.

The stars of Madame Web (2024)
From left to right: Celeste O'Connor, Sydney Sweeney, Dakota Johnson, Isabela Merced
The main cast of Madame Web (2024). Credit: Shutterstock/Tinseltown

What is Madame Web?

Madame Web (2024) follows Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson), a NYC paramedic who is gifted psychic powers after a freak accident. Initially confused, she must use her powers to help three young women (who grow to be Spider-Women) who are being pursued by Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim). If one is wondering how this connects to Spider-Man, well, it’s kind of hard to say. Ben Parker is in the movie, played by Adam Scott, and Peter’s birth is relegated to a small subplot. But, that’s about it, and if one is looking for compelling storytelling on that front, you won’t find it.

Why Did Madame Web Fail?

Madame Web was released on February 14th of this year, and it didn’t take off like Sony hoped. Critically, it’s continually being lambasted and joked about. YouTube reviewer Sean Chandler says the movie has no desire to explore the characters it’s actively portraying, instead teasing Spider-Man with no payoff. Movies are subjective, but it seems that Chandler has a point. The main ensemble’s costumes and powers only appear in flash-forwards, and there’s the aforementioned birth of Peter in the background that doesn’t really add anything. Why Sony continues to tease Spider-Man without showing him in this universe might remain a mystery for some time.

Credit: Sean Chandler Talks About/YouTube

The film also received exposure from a video from another reviewer, Chris Stuckmann, for different reasons. He said that he wouldn’t criticize it too harshly. Most of his video was about how Sony is mismanaging their use of the Spider-Man rights, and the larger issue of the current filmmaking landscape. Stuckmann felt that the Sony producers are stifling the creativity of the people working for them when it comes to these properties. The cast and crew of the movie remain unscathed in his video.

Admittedly, this is because Stuckmann is transitioning from being a critic to filmmaker in his own right. However, it caused quite the stir on YouTube and other social platforms! Some think Stuckmann’s thoughts reflected a mature response to not putting down artists who make movies. Others think that Stuckmann was being a coward, and should’ve given an actual review. Regardless of Stuckmann’s stance, it opened up a spotlight on the sheer amount of criticism this movie got.

Credit: Chris Stuckmann/YouTube

The criticism towards Madame Web has been attributed to many other things besides what Chandler mentions. Some chalk it up to the uncharismatic performances, others the direction and editing, and still others to a script full of odd dialogue and weird plot choices. However, the bottom line is that a movie like this isn’t connecting with the masses. And yet, there’s still more projects to come!

The logo for Kraven the Hunter (2024)
The logo for Kraven the Hunter (2024). Credit: Shutterstock/Hamara

What’s Next for Sony?

Usually, Sony releases one of these movies in a given year, but this year, we have been blessed with two more. On August 30th, Kraven the Hunter (2024) will be released, starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson as another villain/anti-hero, and on November 8th, we’ll get a third Venom movie. Sony also seems to be working on films on other obscure characters like Hypno-Hustler with the talent of Donald Glover. There even seems to be a future on TV, with the development live-action series about Silk and Spider-Man Noir on Amazon and MGM+.

Is Madame Web a sign that things aren’t working in the SSU? One would think, but this is also a studio that re-released Morbius (2021). Regardless of whether the producers are meddling with these productions, the problem is the characters they choose to adapt. Venom is a popular, beloved Marvel character. Characters like Morbius and Madame Web aren’t. Automatically, the writers and directors have to work twice as hard to get general audiences to care. And when you are concerned with future sequels on these obscure characters, your debut piece will be weak.

As if that weren’t enough, there’s also the matter of Into the Spider-Verse (2018) and Across the Spider-Verse (2023). Sony has produced both of these animated adaptations, which focus on Miles Morales and the multiverse. Both of these movies have garnered consistent critical acclaim and financial success, the opposite of their live-action efforts. It seems clear that perhaps this is where the opportunity lies for Sony. They might not be able to tell a story with Peter Parker, but there are plenty of other compelling Spider-Men (and women!) with good stories to tell.

The Verdict

Perhaps the next two installments of Sony’s SSU might surprise general audiences and comic book fans. Perhaps Madame Web will be a fluke this year, and Sony could improve their live-action movie formula for these characters. However, if improvements aren’t made soon, they should either stick to breathtaking animation or adapting different versions of the character people actually care about. If future movies are of the same quality as Madame Web, it seems like the future for Sony might not be that bright.

Written By

Hi, my name is J.D., and I'm a writer here at TrillMag, and as far back as I can remember, I've loved talking and writing about movies, TV, and the general entertainment industry. I hope to cover some current trends, and also recommend some things you might've overlooked!

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. John DeCaro

    March 19, 2024 at 8:27 pm

    Really enjoyed this article.
    The subject matter is not one I am too familiar with, but I was able to understand what you were saying.
    Keep up the good work.

    Grandma and Grandpa. Love you 💝

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