The Student Newspaper of Highline College


Dakota Johnson, star of “Madame Web”.

Opinion: “Madame Web” is great actually

Cam Lyons Staff Reporter Feb 22, 2024

Dakota Johnson stars as the subtly-named Cassandra Webb in Sony’s newest attempt at money laundering: “Madame Web”. Boasting a 3.8 out of 10 stars on IMDb, a 13% critic rating, and 55% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, “Madame Web” is, in my opinion, actually not a bad movie – but perhaps the greatest Pepsi commercial ever made. 

While product placement is a common aspect in film, especially modern film, “Madame Web” seems to hint at Spiderman characters as side plots to a larger, expanded “Pepsi Cinematic Universe” (PCU), which I personally find inspiring. 

Even the climax of “Madame Web” is atop a giant Pepsi sign, wherein one of the letters falls off and crushes the villain, almost suggesting that the hero all along was Pepsi Cola, with some assistance from strong independent women. 

The cherry on top of this capitalist sundae is titular character and nepo queen herself, Dakota Johnson, who starts off as a paramedic who is rude to children and ends her arc as a superhero who is rude to children and wears Pit Viper sunglasses.

Serving as the cinematic linchpin, Johnson is the only actor here who seems to be aware that she’s in a Pepsi comedy. She delivers every line cognisant of the true dumpster fire of it all, and has seamlessly danced between awkward interviews and off-putting dialogue with the agility of some kind of spider-related person.

Johnson cosplays as a human woman while delivering glorious lines like, “When your heart starts back up again, you’re fine,” and, “You know the best thing about the future? It hasn’t happened yet.”

She even jokingly alludes twice to the canonical death of Ben Parker (her hot best friend and future Uncle Ben to Peter Parker), leaves children alone in the woods for several hours, and flat out obliterates the vibes of her friend’s baby shower in one pivotal scene.

Johnson brings the shower to a halt and horrifies the expectant mother by mentioning how common death is in the birthing process while wielding a unique cinematic tension that you’d normally find in “No Country for Old Men” and a visceral discomfort you’d normally experience by watching “Euphoria” with your parents.

The second most ruthless character in this commercial is the villain, Ezekiel Simms, whose lines were clearly altered in post-production. Dressed like a villain from the Flash TV show, Simms spends his screen time jumping at our main characters and saying his evil plans out loud.

Simms delivered the funniest line of the movie when responding to his assistant, who objected to him killing the three teenage girls Johnson is protecting: “They’re teenagers now, but in the future…” Simms pauses dramatically, as if to say “These specific kids will eventually be adults so I kind of get a pass.”

To properly appreciate where this fails as a movie, you should understand a bit of showbiz context. You know why there’ve been several live action Spiderman actors in the past 15 years? No, it’s not because playing Peter Parker is a new version of jury duty that young brunette actors need to report to every 3-5 years.

Basically, Sony Pictures needed to release those Spiderman movies so they could keep the rights from the up and coming Marvel Cinematic Universe, and if you’ve had the internet since 2010, you already know who won that game of intellectual property tug-o-war. 

Since losing the live action rights to Spiderman, Sony has been relegated to creating Spiderman adjacent movies like “Morbius”, “Kraven”, and now “Madame Web”. In order to profit from the Spiderman name, Sony has no choice but to squeeze every penny from the hero without actually mentioning his name.

Cut now to our beloved commercial, “Madame Web” doesn’t allow itself to be bogged down with character growth, practical effects, or thematic nuance. If a character is thinking something or a central theme of the movie is being addressed, rest assured that that character will simply say it out loud.

“Madame Web: Brought to you by Pepsi” doesn’t concern itself with showing more than two minutes of the main characters in costume. It doesn’t bother filming vital scenes when it could just reuse shots from “Spiderman 2”. It didn’t even waste energy by telling Dakota Johnson that this film doesn’t take place in the MCU.

This is what makes art beautiful. If there is a “Madame Web 2”, theaters will have it sharing a split screen with Subway Surfers to keep our attention in between screen grabs of whatever delicious Pepsi product we are encouraged to buy, and that is a good thing! What those negative reviewers are guffawing at is exactly what I rejoice in.

Is the true meaning of art criticizing its box office losses or laughing at its failures? How hypocritical of us to judge art on its commercial merits as some kind of rubric for a larger success, when there is clearly a far more important aspect of cinema for us to examine.

What I am getting at is that it shouldn’t be about how much money Sony Pictures made. It shouldn’t be about Johnson firing her agent after the first trailer release. Those that shrink the purpose of movies down to theatrical success are part of the problem. The question we really need to ask ourselves is this: how much money did Pepsi make?

Naysayers will point to the glaring flaws in plot, character development, CGI, writing, acting, and basic understanding of filmmaking as a reason to avoid this work of art, but those who criticize it are missing the broader point here, that sometimes garbage can be beautiful. Thank you Dakota Johnson and thank you Pepsi. Amen.

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