Yes, Marvel’s Madame Web is a ‘schlocky, janky’ disaster – but Dakota Johnson’s press tour is a joy

<span>‘I hope I did an OK job’ … Dakota Johnson.</span><span>Photograph: Victor Chavez/REX/Shutterstock</span>
‘I hope I did an OK job’ … Dakota Johnson.Photograph: Victor Chavez/REX/Shutterstock

To call Madame Web’s release a disaster would be a wild understatement. Not since Cats has a movie inspired such a combination of terrible reviews (the Guardian has variously described it as “dumb and schlocky”, an “unholy mess” and a “janky rip-off made by people afraid of legal action”) and consumer apathy.

The miserable box office performance – by some distance, it has the lowest-grossing opening weekend of any Spidey-adjacent movie made this century – has killed off a potential franchise at birth. It has damaged the careers of anyone who happened to stray near it. It is doomed, always and for ever, to be a Hollywood punchline.

Related: Madame Web review – Marvel’s junky spin-off is a tangled mess

But let’s not write off the film completely. Despite numerous critics warning that the film is bad-bad rather than fun-bad, there is always a chance of it becoming a campy, culty sleeper hit in years to come.

More immediately, though, Madame Web has at least given us Dakota Johnson’s press tour. For weeks, Johnson – who must have known the state of the film she was promoting, not least because she fired her representation as soon as she finished making it – has been turning up for interviews with the sort of recklessly devil-may-care attitude that could give an army of publicists the vapours.

Long before the release, Johnson spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the challenges of big-budget moviemaking. Remarking that she had never had to react to nonexistent explosions in front of a blue screen before, she called the process “absolutely psychotic”, adding: “I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is going to be good at all! I hope that I did an OK job!’” In fairness, she was describing her own performance and not the movie in general, but before she knew it “Dakota Johnson says making Madame Web was absolutely psychotic” headlines were springing up online.

This wasn’t helped by an interview with the Wrap in which Johnson suggested that the film she made wasn’t necessarily the one she initially agreed to. “There were drastic changes,” she said of the script. “And I can’t even tell you what they were.” Put together, these quotes paint a picture of an actor who couldn’t stand the film she was in.

That is ridiculous, of course. Johnson cannot possibly dislike Madame Web because, as she has stated more than once, she hasn’t actually seen Madame Web. “I don’t know when I’ll see it,” she sniffed to one reporter. “Someday.” During another appearance, she asked the interviewer “Did you see the movie? I haven’t. You know more about it than me.”

This isn’t something she should feel bad about because, despite an early promotional video (while still in costume) in which she said, “I have always loved Marvel movies,” she later admitted that she had only seen roughly “4%” of them. Pressed on whether or not she could name the most recent Spider-Man films – given that Madame Web is peripherally linked to the character – she came up with “Spider-Man: Here He Comes”, “Spider-Man: And He’s Back” and “The Goblet of Spider-Man”.

Madame Web was the butt of several jokes from the release of the first trailer, which included the clumsy, exposition-heavy, eminently meme-worthy line, “He was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died.” One interviewer asked Johnson about the reaction to the line, at which point she adopted a tone of indignant outrage. When the interviewer suggested that the line might have been funny out of context, she shrugged, “Isn’t any sentence out of context, out of context?” before repeating the line and adding that it “seems like a basic storyline to me”. This is the sort of fight that the studios like to see their talent put up in the face of criticism. Although clearly someone thought better of the line because it doesn’t feature in the movie itself.

For the most part, though, Johnson has only really come to life in interviews when the subject of Madame Web goes away, as when she animatedly told Seth Meyers that making her cameo in the finale of The Office was “honestly the worst time of my life”, or when she used a recent Saturday Night Live hosting stint to propose a “nepo baby truce” with two other cast members who also have famous parents – “a foot in the door and so much more” – or when an interview was interrupted by an earthquake. “There will be an aftershock,” she proclaimed, relieved beyond words to be granted a brief respite from trying to sell her dead dog of a film.

Sadly, the film is out, and Johnson has abandoned the promotional treadmill. But maybe, if we all do the right thing and buy enough tickets to push Madame Web into profit, we’ll get to see her do the whole thing all over again for the sequel.

Madame Web is in cinemas now.