Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry examines the casting news that places Dakota Johnson inside the utterly bizarre Madame Web.
The many Peter Parkers in Spider-Man: No Way Home rescued the December box office, and if you were a Sony studio executive, you’d probably be searching for as many strands to spin from it as possible. They’ve already found success through the two Venom tangents, and they’ve got their fingers crossed that Morbius will make some noise in April. The Spider-Verse is their big bet, and it’s wrapped another star into its ever-expanding web. A pun most brutally intended.
According to Deadline, Dakota Johnson is in talks to join S.J. Clarkson’s Madame Web, the Spidey offshoot written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. Despite a detour through the Fifty Shades series, Johnson has aligned herself with the indie film scene, including two recent and popular showings at the Sundance Film Festival (Cha Cha Real Smooth and Am I OK?). Fronting a major superhero movie for Sony would be a dramatic departure.
Who is Madame Web?
Although, maybe the word “major” should not be associated with Madame Web. Even amongst the many odd weirdos populating Spider-Man comics, Madame Web stands out as one of the strangest. She first appeared in The Amazing Spider–Man #210, written by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by John Romita Jr.
A quick Google image search will reveal that she and Johnson don’t quite look alike. Madame Web is an older woman who once suffered from Myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease that often affects the muscles in your face and around your eyes. The Madame Web in the comics was attached to a life support system, designed by her husband, that looked something like a mechanical spider web. While tampering with the mystic arts in recent years, she cured herself of this particular ailment.
Madame Web is also a mutant, a human born with a genetic anomaly, an X-gene, that grants her extra-normal abilities. Yes, just like the X–Men, soon to be featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but let’s hold those horses for a minute. Madame Web is a clairvoyant who can see beyond this world and into others. With so much multiversal chaos occurring in superhero movies these days, she’s the perfect agent to bridge franchises.
Madame Web’s Multiverse of Madness
The Deadline article states that “insiders say due to her psychic sensory powers, she is essentially Sony’s version of Doctor Strange.” With Spider-Man soon to be free of the MCU, the Tom Holland Peter Parker could use a magical warrior at his side. And that’s the function Madame Web served in the nineties Spider-Man animated series.
In the cartoon, when the dimensional invader known as The Beyonder began tinkering with reality, his cosmic assistant Madame Web (voiced by Stan Lee’s wife, Joan Lee) chose to help Peter Parker navigate the multiverse. Together, she exposed Peter to numerous possibilities and championed his heroism as something unique. Ultimately, with her help, Spider-Man defeated his diabolical double, Spider-Carnage, and rescued all reality from destruction.
Madame Web served the same function in the Spider–Man: Shattered Dimensions video game from 2010, which partnered Spider-Man with his 2099 and Noir counterparts eight years before Spider–Man: Into the Spider–Verse. Battling against Mysterio, the Spider-Men race to acquire the broken pieces of the Tablet of Order and Chaos. If the fish-bowl-headed baddie beats them to it, he’ll ascend to Godhood. Madame Web steers the player and the Spideys to victory, popping up throughout the game.
Dakota Johnson Could Make Madame Web Work
If Dakota Johnson does indeed inhabit Madame Web, it’s obvious that serious revision will occur. Something we’re all used to by now, as James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Tom Hardy’s Venom don’t really resemble their comic book parallels. We’ll accept creative dabbling as long as the result is quality and in the spirit of the characters.
What remains strange about Sony’s Spider-Verse spin-offs is how they’re establishing Spider-Man supporting players without Spider-Man. They managed to pull off this surgical severing with Venom somewhat, although we cannot deny our desire to see Tom Hardy and Tom Holland clash at some point. No Way Home almost got us there but then chose a tease rather than a meal.
In theory, Morbius without Peter Parker can work. He’s just a crazy vampire man. We’ve got lots of movies about crazy vampire men. We love some; we loathe others. We wait for April to see if Sony pulls that flick off. But we have to admit, we’re rather sick of seeing that trailer after so many theatrical pushbacks, and our enthusiasm has dwindled to almost nonexistence.
Madame Web without Spider-Man is not entirely unfeasible. Yes, her existence so far has been tied to aiding Peter Parker, and she has almost no agency of her own. Giving her some through S.J. Clarkson and Dakota Johnson will greatly improve the character and concept. If they treat her like a Doctor Strange type with insight into worlds beyond the ones we know, she could provide a supernatural smorgasbord where any creature could be slapped into the villain role. Let’s have some fun with monsters, aliens, doppelgangers, or monster-alien-doppelgangers.
Madame Web leans into the weird, and Clarkson (Life on Mars, Jessica Jones) and Johnson (Suspiria, Wounds) do too. As long as they don’t focus on making sense of the nonsense, there should be a good time here with this Spidey spin-off.