Madame Web Comes From the Writers of Morbius and Other Spectacular Flops

Madame Web Comes From the Writers of Morbius and Other Spectacular Flops

BY NOW YOU will be well aware of the jokes about Sony’s sort-of-Spider-Man-spinoff Madame Web. They started as soon as the first trailer for the movie dropped, with the clunky, expository line of dialogue “He was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died” launching so many memes that it ended up getting cut from the movie upon its release.

The Dakota Johnson vehicle is by no means a great movie, and it might not even be a very good superhero movie, suffering from the fact that it comes 20 years into the boom of that particular genre, and Marvel fatigue has well and truly set in. But I’m here to say it is actually a perfect execution of a very different kind of film: the airplane movie. Or, as it may have been dubbed in decades past, a B-movie: a film you can enjoy almost as much for its flaws and inexplicable creative decisions as for what it gets right.

And I believe that is due, in no small part, to screenwriting duo Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who penned the script for Madame Web alongside Claire Parker and director S.J. Clarkson. Far from being an anomaly in their shared body of work, Madame Web is very much of a piece with Sazam and Sharpless’ other output: middling genre fare that seeks not to expand or buck conventions, but rather to deliver trope after trope, revelling in cliché where other writers might shy away. In other words, the kind of movie you’ll get a kick out of when you’re slightly drunk and/or sleepy at 20,000 feet.

This saga begins 10 years ago, with their first movie, Dracula Untold. Conceived as an origin story for Bram Stoker’s infamous vampire (played here by a buff and brooding Luke Evans), this was originally intended to be the first installment in Universal’s “Dark Universe,” which would weave together reimaginings of several classic monsters from their catalogue. That film’s poor performance led to Universal downplaying its connection to their shared universe plans, and later said that the reboot of The Mummy would launch the new franchise. That film’s critical panning led to the Dark Universe being abandoned entirely.

luke evans, dracula untold

Jasin Boland//Universal

Sazama and Sharpless’ next studio project was 2015’s The Last Witch Hunter, another story that wove together fantasy, horror and action elements. Just like Dracula Untold, it had seemingly franchise-launching potential: Fast & Furious star Vin Diesel as a leading man, and Game of Thrones star Rose Leslie at a time when that was the biggest show on the planet. A sequel is reportedly still in the works, but nothing new has been announced since 2020.

That was swiftly followed by 2016’s Gods of Egypt, a Stargate ripoff which cast white actors in an epic fantasy inspired by Ancient Egypt and has since been all-but-forgotten, and 2017’s Power Rangers, another aborted attempt to relaunch a franchise.

Then, in 2018, came Netflix’s Lost in Space reboot, where Sazama and Sharpless worked as writers and executive producers. This may well be the outlier here in that it delivered three seasons of compelling, emotionally resonant sci-fi (not to mention a delightfully weird Parker Posey performance), and might actually be deservingly called “good.”

After Lost in Space ended in 2021, Sazama and Sharpless returned to the big screen, and delivered what was arguably the movie of 2022. No, I’m not talking about Top Gun: Maverick, or Everything Everywhere All at Once. I’m talking, of course, about Morbius.

morbius, jared leto

Sony Pictures

In many ways the vampiric sire of Madame Web, Morbius gave us Jared Leto at his most extra, a weirdly horny Matt Smith vampire villain, a kill scene set unironically to Jessie Ware’s ‘The Kill’ (because subtlety is for cowards), and of course, countless memes. Sony even got duped into releasing the movie in theaters a second time, all because viewers were having such a good time with how wildly, wonderfully stupid the whole thing was.

But theaters is not where these kinds of cultural artefacts belong. They are the province of long-haul flights, or hungover Sunday afternoons. Nicole Kidman might walk into that AMC wanting to feel, but when I strap myself into my seat and order a gin and tonic, I want to turn off my higher brain function and let the most bizarre, lurid storytelling choices possible wash over me. And I know I’m not alone in that.

So. Are Sazama and Sharpless serial franchise killers, or misunderstood B-movie geniuses? I’ll let you decide.

Headshot of Philip Ellis

Philip Ellis

Philip Ellis is News Editor at Men’s Health, covering fitness, pop culture, sex and relationships, and LGBTQ+ issues. His work has appeared in GQ, Teen Vogue, Man Repeller and MTV, and he is the author of Love & Other Scams.

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