The new trailer for Sony’s upcoming superhero film, Madame Web, instantly made an impression online, inspiring a meme mocking a clunky line reading by star Dakota Johnson, who plays the titular character.
While the decline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been the subject of scrutiny and mockery of late, the MCU’s awkward sibling, the “Sony Spider-Man Universe” (SSU), has always inspired memes online, and Madame Web has proved no exception.
What is the Sony Spider-Man Universe?
It’s complicated, but lets keep it brief: in 1999, Marvel sold the Spider-Man film rights to Sony Pictures, a decision that seemed a no-brainer at the time, but in hindsight, was incredibly shortsighted.
However, Sony’s original Spider-Man trilogy kickstarted the superhero blockbuster wave and led to the creation of the MCU (the latest Spidey MCU film, No Way Home, actually brought back beloved characters from Sony’s trilogy).
During the glory days of the Avengers, Sony made a deal with Marvel to allow Spider-Man to appear in the MCU, much to the fandom’s delight. Sony then created a rival cinematic universe, the SSU, filled with characters associated with Spider-Man, such as Morbius, Venom and Madame Web.
Spider-Man has yet to star in an SSU film, but Tom Holland’s Spider-Man did appear (briefly) in the post-credits scene of Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
It is unclear if casual moviegoers even understand that there is a difference between the SSU and MCU, as the two universes have crossed in post-credits scenes several times, and made the multiverse even more confusing.
Madame Web is the latest entry in the SSU.
Who is Madame Web?
In the comics, Madame Web is an elderly blind woman whose life support system resembles a spiderweb, and she can see into the future. In the film, she is young and able-bodied, played by Dakota Johnson, but has the same precognitive powers.
Madame Web introduces a new team of Spider-Women, played by Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, Isabela Merced and Anya Corazon. The team are facing off against an antagonist known as Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), who has Spider-Man powers and a similar costume, minus the webs.
To put it simply, imagine a movie starring a handful of Spider-Man variants from the Spider-Verse, without Peter Parker or Miles Morales. Even comic book enthusiasts seemed confused by the idea.
What is the Madame Web meme?
The Madame Web trailer has an incredible amount of exposition to get through, tasked with introducing multiple Spider-people and explaining Madame Web’s distinctive powers.
When Johnson’s character reveals her antagonist’s backstory, she states: “He was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders, right before she died.”
The line sounds cobbled together in the editing room, and is likely intended only for the trailer, but the clunkiness (combined with Johnson’s monotonous delivery) proved a striking combination; naturally, the internet loved it.
Instantly, Johnson’s quote became a new meme template.
One user even paired the quote with a screenshot from Johnson’s now-iconic interview with Ellen DeGeneres, an awkward moment involving a birthday party invitation.
Other commentators expressed bafflement that this is where the superhero movie trend has led to, a slate of films starring extremely obscure comic book characters, attempting to recreate the box office magic that Marvel has already lost.
It’s too early to say for sure, but Madame Web might just be the new Morbius; the Jared Leto pseudo-vampire film famously became a popular meme, inspiring an ironic fandom who pretended to love it.
The joke of Morbius was that few had bothered to watch Morbius, but the film was heralded as “the most movie ever” and said to have made “a morbillion dollars” at the box office.
The ironic fandom was so dedicated to the bit that Sony appeared to mistake their irony for enthusiasm, and re-released Morbius in theatres, where it flopped for the second time.
Sony’s live-action superhero movies seem to have a special quality to them, a straight-to-DVD energy that the internet loves. Venom and its sequel, however, were genuinely well-received by fans (even if critics weren’t impressed); both did well at the box office.
The success of those films can surely be attributed to star Tom Hardy, who really made the character his own, delivering a unique performance. Not to mention, Venom is a very popular and widely-recognized character.
It remains to be seen if Madame Web will be the next Venom, or the next Morbius.