Spider-Man, Zendaya, & The Mary Jane Of It All

PHoto: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
What a time to be alive, because Zendaya is our Mary Jane in the Spider-Man universe. The Spider-Man character (and long-time love interest) has been a presence in the comics since almost the very beginning, and the same goes for the recent movies, as well.
But in case your memory is a little hazy since you saw Spider-Man: Homecoming, it's worth noting that she's not exactly Mary Jane. Zendaya’s MJ (aka Michelle Jones) is sort of half twist, half homage to the original character, with the initials MJ nodding to Spidey's OG love interest. So she is, and also kinda isn’t, Mary Jane. More so than anything else, the character is just carrying on the tradition of Mary Jane and the place she's held in Peter’s heart in other iterations, but honestly, those might be the most important things, especially in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
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In the comics, Mary Jane Watson is Peter Parker’s next-door neighbor and Aunt May is constantly trying to set him up with her. Eventually, it works, and the rest is history (the two actually married in 1997 — congrats on 22 years together!). The original Spider-Man movies depicted somewhat of the same character, with Kirsten Dunst playing Mary Jane. And Shailene Woodley was cast as Mary Jane for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, her scenes were cut.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, we meet Zendaya's Michelle. She’s a smart outcast who — as she even says herself — is highly observant of everything around her, including whatever the heck Peter is up to. Throughout the movie, we just know her as Michelle, but in the closing moments, she explains that her friends call her “MJ,” since her last name is Jones. That’s really all we need to link her to the iconic character, even though she doesn’t live next door to this Peter and Aunt May isn’t trying to set them up on a date.
At the time of the release of Homecoming, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige tried to downplay the connection, hinting that she’s not really a new twist on the character, but more of a homage to her. He explained to IGN that, “She's not Mary Jane Watson. She never was Mary Jane Watson. She was always this new high school character, Michelle, who we know there's an 'M' in Michelle and an 'M' in Mary. So we're so clever and we thought, ‘Wouldn't it be neat if her initials were MJ?’ And then I think it leaked that she would be playing MJ and then it became a whole headache for Zendaya to have to navigate. It was never a big, 'Oh my God, it's a big reveal!' There are big reveals in the movie. That's not one of them.”
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However, fans are still going to latch onto the character and dub her the new MJ. Which is fine.
Plus, Zendaya is very much leaning onto the Mary Jane/MJ character right now, and before the Far From Home press tour started she even dyed her hair red (!!). When announcing the new hair color, as one does on social media, she posted her Mary Jane-inspired 'do with the caption “face it, tiger,” which is actually the first thing Mary Jane ever said to Peter in the comics. Fans were quick to point this out to her (guys, she obviously knows), and fall even further in love with her new portrayal of the character.
Whether she really is or isn’t the exact same character doesn’t matter in the end, as long as she’s having fun playing the role because that means we get to see her continue to tug at sweet Peter's heartstrings. And maybe, if we ask really nicely, we’ll get a stand-alone Mary Jane movie with Zendaya playing the lead role because, after Far From Home, it's clear this woman can solve a mystery and that’s something we deserve.

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