I can’t believe we’re still talking about this. A full two years since the rumors first started swirling, we still don’t know for certain whether Zendaya is playing Mary Jane Watson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
A rumor, based on a leaked call sheet from the filming of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, left fans to speculate over whether Zendaya was secretly playing Mary Jane, instead of the character of “Michelle” that had been announced.
Leaving aside the (frankly quite gross) subsection of the fan community that opposed this based on Zendaya’s lack of ginger hair (despite the fact that the character has never been played by a natural redhead), the rumors didn’t stop when Marvel refused to flat-out deny anything.
In fact, one time Zendaya did deny that she was playing Mary Jane, but this got her in trouble with Marvel’s higher ups. It seemed that the studio actually wanted things to stay ambiguous.
This ambiguity continued when “Homecoming” released, as in her final scene in the film, Michelle tells Peter to call her “MJ”.
This is a scene that’s designed to further speculation, keeping fans caught in a whirl of theories and discussions as we attempt to figure out whether Michelle will eventually turn into a kind of stand-in for the comic book Mary Jane.
The Return of MJ?
All of this returns to the surface now as Zendaya has been posting from the set of “Far From Home”. She’s back, and she’s playing a character that has now been renamed MJ – so does this mean she’s playing Mary Jane, but with a different first name?
While at the initial announcement of Zendaya’s inclusion in the film, I’d have been very happy to see her play Mary Jane, now I’m not so sure.
This isn’t a negative comment on her performance in “Homecoming”. If anything, it’s a reflection of just how enjoyable she is in the movie. She sparkles in every scene, and my one criticism is that there’s not enough of her.
Michelle is most decidedly not Mary Jane. Zendaya’s character doesn’t line up with any incarnation of the classic character.
As such, I’d rather hate to see Michelle slowly transition into filling the Mary Jane role. I’d rather see her go through her own special character arc.
Ned Leeds, for example, is more akin to the comic book character of Famke Jensen. I don’t want him to transform into the real comic book Ned, who is a far less likable character.
I’d also prefer for the door to be open for an authentic Mary Jane down the line.
The True Mary Jane
We’ve never seen an authentic MJ on the big screen. Kirsten Dunst is basically playing a riff on Gwen Stacy in the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” movies, and Shailene Woodley got cut from “Amazing Spider-Man 2”.
In the comics, Mary Jane is an outgoing, friendly, capable, confident woman who thrives on the company of others. She’s also riddled with insecurity and signs of depression as a result of her less than stellar upbringing.
In the best “Spider-Man” comics, Mary Jane functions essentially as his sidekick, helping him investigate crimes and giving him convenient alibis whenever necessary to help him put on his tights and go to work. She also acts as his emotional anchor, supporting him through much of the stress of being Spider-Man.
In the movies, Mary Jane has never been this kind of character. In fairness, she hasn’t played this role in the comics for a while either, but it seems that Marvel is returning to the classic dynamic with the latest “Spider-Man” relaunch.
I want Zendaya’s Michelle and an authentic Mary Jane in the MCU. I want Peter Parker to be surrounded by capable, interesting, three-dimensional female characters, as he is in the best of the comic books.
Basically, I want to have my cake and eat it – and I’m not the only one.
Marvel’s Loose Planning
The MCU is going to be around forever, and I suspect that the studio’s hesitancy to definitively label Zendaya’s character comes from the hope that they can just see how things work out.
If people continue to respond to Michelle, she might transition into the Mary Jane role as the heart and soul of the Spider-Man mythos. Certainly Aunt May isn’t allowed to take on this role in the current movie universe!
Alternatively, the studio might like the character to grow into her own thing. If Michelle’s fanbase continues to grow (or if Zendaya gets too expensive in the near future) then another, additional character named Mary Jane can be inserted into the canon.
All of this means that it’ll be a while before we get any solid, concrete answer to the basic question of Zendaya’s role in the MCU.
Fine. I’m willing to tolerate this.
Just, Marvel, please please please. Don’t recast J Jonah Jameson.
Either bring back the Academy Award winner JK “I’ll burn your house down with lemons” Simmons, or leave Jameson out of the MCU forever.
(I love those Sam Raimi movies so much.)