Dakota Johnson Hits the Mark on Superhero Movie Fatigue (And Offers Solutions)

Madame Web star Dakota Johnson has identified a big problem with the way superhero movies are made, and how it leads to audiences’ superhero fatigue.

Reflecting on Madame Web, star Dakota Johnson gave a characteristically honest explanation of why she thinks Sony’s latest Marvel movie didn’t work and what’s causing superhero fatigue – and she’s right on both counts. Dakota Johnson has previously hinted at behind the scenes turmoil for Madame Web, having previously mentioned Madame Web’s script underwent major changes. While this isn’t always a red flag for a movie, those statements coupled with more recent revelations regarding the movie’s production could indicate that these changes were part of the problem.

Dakota Johnson’s comments on Madame Web touch on a subject that has been discussed before with superhero movies – namely, the meddling of outside forces and how they affect the final product. Johnson’s commentary about how these issues can affect superhero movies’ ability to connect with an audience hold weight based on several previous superhero movie releases, and touch upon an issue that the genre needs to contend with going forward to ensure its continued success.

Superhero Movies Being Too Formulaic Is Hurting The Genre

Dakota Johnson Explained How Committee Decisions Hurt Madame Web

Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Web Drenched and Scared by the River in Madame Web

In a recent interview with Bustle, Dakota Johnson mentioned the types of decisions movie studios make that have nothing to do with their films’ artistic value and more to do with fitting a formula, lamenting that this can take away from the plans of a movie’s creative team. Johnson’s comments can be read below:

“..decisions are being made by committees, and art does not do well when it’s made by committee. Films are made by a filmmaker and a team of artists around them. You cannot make art based on numbers and algorithms. My feeling has been for a long time that audiences are extremely smart, and executives have started to believe that they’re not. Audiences will always be able to sniff out bullsh* t. ”

Johnson’s comments about executives not trusting audiences seems particularly relevant to Madame Web. One major criticism of the movie is how it tended to talk down to audiences, often having Cassie Webb explain the plot directly, once even to her cat.

Johnson went on to say that she thinks part of the problem also comes down to certain parties attempting to control a film’s production, stating:

“[Too many people controlling a movie is] a big f*cking problem. It’s also about control and feeling powerful, and that’s not what art is.”

Dakota Johnson does have some experience with how struggles over creative control can negatively impact a movie, having previously discussed how power disputes over creative decisions in the Fifty Shades series between the movie’s team and the original author impacted the movie. Similar to Madame Web, Fifty Shades received low scores from critics.

Risk Taking Doesn’t Always Mean Good Superhero Movies, But It’s Necessary

Successful Superhero Movies Like Guardians Of The Galaxy Were Big Risks

Rocket Raccoon and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

While Dakota Johnson has a point about studios taking a chance on creative teams, risks like this don’t always pay off. For example, the director of Eternals, Chloe Zhao, made it clear that she retained creative control over the movie – but the movie failed to find an audience and was less than the huge success Marvel was likely hoping for.

Things like the movie’s curated soundtrack and flashy style have since been emulated to varying degrees of success in other superhero projects.

In contrast, some projects that may have appeared more risky, like Guardians of the Galaxy, have been huge successes. Had Marvel not trusted that a movie about obscure characters like Rocket Raccoon – made by a director who was creating his first MCU movie – could work, superhero movies might look very different. Things like the movie’s curated soundtrack and flashy style have since been emulated to varying degrees of success in other superhero projects.

Even though it was critically panned, the risks Madame Web took did show some promise. The film’s premise of a psychological thriller using a Marvel character as a horror villain is a genuinely interesting one. In the few scenes where the film actually commits to trying this, like the tense scene on the train, Madame Web shows how this idea could have worked. However, the movie is bogged down by constant Spider-Man references, which have led to theories that these references were part of the later alterations made to the script.

Madame Web’s failure has led to the movie sitting among the least successful superhero films ever, and Sydney Sweeney’s SNL joke cements that.

Will Marvel And DC’s Upcoming Movies Avoid Design By Committee?

The MCU And DCU Both Have Opportunities For Creator-Driven Projects

King T'Chaka's Black Panther in What If...? season 2 episode 2

Recent comments by Disney CEO Bob Iger have raised some concerns that the MCU might be moving away from riskier projects, at least in theaters. However, Marvel’s upcoming TV shows could still be a place for more creative risks. For example, Eyes of Wakanda has Black Panther director Ryan Coogler attached as an executive producer. Coogler has made two very successful movies for Marvel and will hopefully be afforded some creative freedom when it comes to the show.

Over on the DCU side, things look even more hopeful. James Gunn’s Superman will likely stick pretty close to his creative vision, now that he is one of DC’s CEOs. DC is also allowing for creator-driven Elseworlds projects, like JJ Abrams and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ upcoming Superman project. DC will also be adapting some of their stranger characters, like Swamp Thing, who will appear in a project directed by Logan’s James Mangold. Hopefully Johnson’s comments help encourage a promising prospective future for both franchises, and studios take steps to avoid the type of meddling that caused Madame Web to struggle creatively.

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