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With critics and fans alike cheering for Spider-Man: Homecoming, it's clear that the wall-crawler's latest big-screen outing is a roaring success. Tom Holland, in particular, has been praised for his performance; he perfectly balances both Peter Parker and Spider-Man and is absolutely brilliant in the role — but fans are confused when it comes to a major twist at the end of the movie.
Note: heavy spoilers follow for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Early in Homecoming's production, rumors suggested that #Zendaya would be playing Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker's most famous love interest (which unfortunately set off a racist backlash). She denied this, and producers revealed that her character's name was Michelle. But in the film, we learn that her initials are "MJ."
So is she Mary Jane Watson or what? In a recent interview with IGN, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige cleared things up: "She's not Mary Jane Watson. She never was Mary Jane Watson." He elaborated on the decision to give her that famous nickname:
"Well, we never even looked at it as a big reveal necessarily but more of just a fun homage to his past adventures and his past love. 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. [laughs] 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."
She's NOT Mary Jane — But She Can Still Be A Great Character
If you wanted undeniable proof that Zendaya isn't playing MJ, you just got it. Pretty much anything Kevin Feige says is gospel truth when it comes to the #MCU. This was backed up by #Sony producer Amy Pascal:
"She is not going to end as being Mary Jane Watson."
Since the previous two #SpiderMan franchises already featured his greatest loves — Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy — Marvel decided to take another path. This led to the decision that the focus of Peter's affections would be Liz Allan (or should that be Toomes?)
It's plain to see that Michelle isn't a love-interest for Peter in Spider-Man: Homecoming; she's just another one of his classmates — and actually, she's an interesting character in her own right. She doesn't say a lot in the film, but she is a constant presence in the school scenes. Perhaps most importantly, she's quite different to the traditional Mary Jane we've seen in the comics.
When she was (finally) introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #42, Mary Jane was a free spirit and a bit of a party girl. She was brought in as a rival to Gwen Stacy for Peter's affections and made an instant impact with that iconic entrance. Almost immediately, Gwen felt insecure about Peter hanging around with this carefree redhead and became jealous. However, MJ's frivolous nature led Peter to become frustrated with her, and he quickly turned his attentions to Gwen.
It's clear to see that Michelle is not this type of party girl character. She's always seen with a book, making an illustration or generally observing what's going on. She plays her part in helping Midtown High win the Academic Decathlon and is even appointed captain when Liz leaves for Oregon at the end of the film.
As with the rest of the movie, there's some obvious inspiration from Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley's legendary run on Ultimate Spider-Man, and Michelle is no different. If she is the MCU's adaptation of Mary Jane then this would be where some of her character came from. Ultimate MJ is Peter Parker's lab partner and is known for being intelligent — her friends call her "Brainy Jane" because of this — and the two are best friends.
While Michelle may be inspired by Mary Jane Watson, it's clear that she is a different character. Her personality is totally different to any version of Mary Jane that's come before her, and that's perfectly fine. All that the two characters share are the same initials. Let's let Kevin Feige have the last word:
"She's not Mary-Jane Watson. Is she going to date Peter? Are they going to fall in love? She seems to be intrigued with him. There's a nice chemistry there. Who knows what will happen in the future films?"
Who knows, in the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, perhaps we could be introduced to Mary Jane or Gwen for real.