People Hated ‘Madame Web’ — But They Were Desperate to See Dakota Johnson Mock It.

If you’ve heard one thing about the new superhero film “Madame Web,” it’s almost certain what you heard is that it’s bad. Really bad. “How’d this get made?” bad. Twelve percent on Rotten Tomatoes bad. “People reading reviews and canceling their tickets” bad. If you’ve heard a second thing about “Madame Web,” it’s probably that Dakota Johnson, the film’s star, seems not only fully aware of how bad the movie is but also incapable of hiding this awareness, even during publicity appearances notionally arranged for her to promote the product. These appearances have threatened to eclipse the film itself: Here is a flop so bad that even its star is winkingly trashing it.

It is true that, if you click through clips of Johnson’s recent appearances, you will not get the impression of an actor with a deep well of positive regard for the movie she is talking about. This is partly because of Johnson’s signature affect: Often, when being interviewed, about “Madame Web” or anything else, she radiates a profound lack of interest in the chummy conventions of celebrity P.R. There is a part she is meant to be playing, but she often seems reluctant to play it; instead, she comes across as both puzzled and bored by the whole ritual, and unwilling to pretend otherwise in the name of politesse. (Something similar could be said of her performance in “Madame Web,” in which her delivery of the film’s wooden dialogue seems to come with a trace of a smirk.)

On this press tour, though, it goes beyond mere affect. If the joke is that the film is brain-dead slop, she looks thrilled to play along. A few weeks ago, in a “Saturday Night Live” monologue, she cheerfully described it as a superhero movie starring Sydney Sweeney — “so, kind of like if A.I. generated your boyfriend’s favorite movie.” On “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” when asked what superhero backstory viewers would need in order to enjoy “Madame Web,” Johnson assured Meyers there was none required; in fact, she added, laughing, “You don’t have to know anything about anything at all to watch this movie.” Then she kept spinning out the bit: “You don’t got to know nothing. It’s great for America.” “You know nothing? Come see our movie.”

There were other moments, none especially pointed on their own but hard to ignore once woven together by pop-culture obsessives. She told Entertainment Weekly that she found the experience of filming against a blue screen “absolutely psychotic.” She told The Wrap that the script underwent “drastic changes” from the version that initially persuaded her to sign on. She told Meyers her Gen Z castmates annoyed her and, in an interview with E! News, speculated that they excluded her from their group chat. She told a radio program that she hadn’t seen the movie yet and didn’t know if she ever would. Throughout, the fact that “Madame Web” exists, and that she stars in it, seemed above all like a source of amusement to her.

Pop-culture discourse has eaten this up. A representative selection of reactions: “Yes, Marvel’s ‘Madame Web’ Is a ‘Schlocky, Janky’ Disaster, but Dakota Johnson’s Press Tour Is a Joy.” (The Guardian.) “Johnson Seems to Be Less Than Thrilled With ‘Madame Web,’ and We Love It.” (AV Club.)

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