It feels unlikely that Zendaya’s Michelle would ever refer to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker as “Tiger” in any situation, other than maybe a bitingly sarcastic one. Spider-Man: Homecoming introduced Michelle into the MCU mix, not utilizing the beloved Zendaya as much as some fans might have expected but definitely setting her up for further integration into Peter’s life in the next couple of Spidey films.
This post contains spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
At the end of Homecoming, Michelle tells her debate team that her friends call her “MJ,” despite not having any friends. But Zendaya’s character’s name is definitely Michelle, not Mary Jane. According to Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, the nickname MJ is just a fun homage to the beloved Mary Jane Watson character.
And thank goodness Zendaya isn’t actually Mary Jane — because Michelle is already better, and she’s the character they need to make a third Spider-Man film series work.
That’s not to discredit the character of Mary Jane Watson. People love Mary Jane, and she’s an enduring Marvel character for a reason. Kirsten Dunst portrayed the famed red-headed love interest to Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man in the web-slingers first run on the big screen in 2002.
And that’s the rub: Dunst’s MJ was Spider-Man’s love interest, not Peter Parker’s. While Peter may have been knocked flat by MJ from the moment he met her, desperately failing to get her attention, MJ couldn’t have cared less. She was always more in love with Spider-Man than the man behind the mask. And that’s how it’s always been in Marvel’s comics, too.
MJ’s now-famed first line in Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man #42 in 1966 — “Face it, Tiger … You just hit the jackpot” — is pretty indicative of her character’s relationship with Peter throughout the years. MJ has always been the girl next door, who’s still, somehow, too far out of Peter’s league for her to be anything other than a wet dream. Even when Peter does eventually win MJ over, there’s still the looming threat of her leaving him.
Their relationship is a constant power struggle.
“She’s not Mary Jane Watson,” Feige told CinemaBlend after Homecoming came out. “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 Zendaya’s MJ — messy, snarky, eagle-eyed, and happy to throw a casual middle finger Peter’s way every once in a while — is already giving Peter a run for his money. She’s going to be a better MJ than Mary Jane Watson ever was in the original Spider-Man films and most of the comics (the classic ones, anyway).
In fact, Michelle will probably be the first person to figure out Peter is Spider-Man outside of seeing him in his suit. As she points out at the beginning of Homecoming, she’s not “obsessed with him,” she’s just “very observant.” With Michelle probably still running the debate team in the second Spider-Man standalone in the MCU, she’s going to be paying extra close attention to Peter’s comings and goings. And, despite what she may have said at the end of the film, she most definitely cares about what Peter is hiding and what he’s up to.
The look Michelle gives Peter as he runs out the door to meet Happy, a look some might describe as “longing” or maybe even “pining,” could be taken as confirmation that she is much more interested in Peter than she lets on. With Liz out of the way and now in Oregon, it seems the writers are already setting up MJ as Peter’s next potential love interest.
And, damn, if she isn’t going to be great. If MJ is Peter’s next love interest, then she’s already developed beyond that box, and she’s way more into Peter Parker than Spider-Man.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is now in theaters.