MJ (Marvel Cinematic Universe)

Michelle Jones-Watson, most commonly known as MJ, is a fictional character portrayed by Zendaya in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film franchise, an original character within the media franchise that pays homage to Mary Jane "MJ" Watson, a recurring love interest of Spider-Man in comic books and various media.[2][3][4]

Marvel Cinematic Universe character
First appearanceSpider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Created by
Based on
Mary Jane Watson
Portrayed byZendaya
In-universe information
Full nameMichelle Jones-Watson[1]
Significant otherPeter Parker
OriginQueens, New York, United States

She is depicted as a smart, snarky classmate of Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), and becomes his love interest in the sequel Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), a unique aspect for original characters within the MCU franchise and upon Spider-Man feature films preceding it.[5] She returns in Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), helping Peter, Ned, and Doctor Strange to capture multiple villains that have entered their universe from the multiverse. Her romantic involvement in Peter's personal life would eventually be undone due to Strange's casting of a spell that permanently erased the world's memory of Parker's civilian persona, including the loss of his previous bonds he forged with his friends, loved ones, and allies.[6]

The character has received positive reviews, and Zendaya has been praised as a strong female supporting cast member, receiving the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for her acting in Far From Home.

Creation and concept edit

She has a really cool wardrobe, really funny, lots of literary nods. I like the idea that she's a real reader and bookish. She always has a big pile of books she's carrying around, which I picked and obsessed over.

Jon Watts, director[7]

According to Spider-Man: Homecoming co-screenwriter John Francis Daley, Michelle was intended as a reinvention of Mary Jane Watson.[8] While her nickname reveal was an homage to the supporting character within the comic books and other Spider-Man media, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed she is an original Marvel Cinematic Universe character.[9] Feige added: "Peter's had a lot of friends over the years in the comics, and a lot of schoolmates and characters he's interacted with. It wasn't just Mary Jane Watson; it wasn't just Gwen Stacy; it wasn't just Harry Osborn. So we were very interested in the other characters, and that's where Liz came from and that's where the version of the character Michelle came from."[10] Jon Watts, director of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home and Spider-Man: No Way Home, likened the character to Ally Sheedy's Allison Reynolds from The Breakfast Club (1985) and Linda Cardellini's Lindsay Weir from Freaks and Geeks (1999–2000).[7]

The character's full name is Michelle Jones-Watson, which was first revealed in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Until that point, she had been referred to once as Michelle and primarily known by the nickname MJ; although the name "Michelle Jones" had been used in an article by Variety, quickly spreading among the press and fans, the name was not used in any official media until No Way Home.[1]

Portrayal and characterization edit

Zendaya portrays the character in the MCU.

MJ is portrayed by actress Zendaya in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a classmate of Peter Parker at Midtown School of Science and Technology and a teammate on the academic decathlon team. She is depicted as politically active with critical views, and a loner who claims to eschew friendship.[11][12] Zendaya described the character as "very dry, awkward, intellectual".[13] This sometimes manifests itself in the form of deadpan sarcasm,[14][15][16] as when she calls Peter and Ned "losers" for ogling his crush, Liz, from afar.[12] Among her unusual hobbies is attending detention simply to "sketch people in crisis."[11][12][17]

Unlike previous supporting female characters within Spider-Man films, such as Mary Jane Watson from the Sam Raimi trilogy and Gwen Stacy from the Amazing Spider-Man films, MJ is neither a romantic interest nor a damsel in distress at the beginning of her character arc. Instead, the character Liz was created initially for the role of romantic interest in a way that tied into Parker's conflict with the Vulture.[18][5]

In the third film, she is rescued from a fall by Andrew Garfield's incarnation of Spider-Man, prompting an emotional moment for that Spider-Man, in light of his failure to save Gwen Stacy from a similar fate in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.[19]

Fictional character biography edit

High school life edit

In 2016, Michelle, commonly known as MJ, is introduced as a student at Midtown School of Science and Technology and enjoys mocking her classmates, including Peter Parker. She is a member of the Academic Decathlon team and attends a competition in Washington D.C., during which they win, although she notices Parker's disappearance. At the Washington Monument, she witnesses Spider-Man's arrival. After Liz Allan leaves the school, she is offered Allan's role of Captain of the team by Roger Harrington. She begins to open up more with teammates, such as Ned Leeds and Parker, secretly considering them as her friends.

School vacation edit

In 2018, MJ is a victim of the Blip,[a] before being restored to life in 2023.[b] In 2024, MJ attends the school sponsored trip to Europe, where her affections are sought out by Parker and Brad Davis. When she deduces Parker's identity as Spider-Man, MJ helps discover Mysterio's hero fraud, as he was the one who staged the Elemental invasion. In London, MJ, Leeds, Betty Brant, and Flash Thompson are met by Happy Hogan and take cover from Mysterio's drones after they get targeted. After Mysterio is defeated, MJ embraces Parker. Soon after returning home, MJ and Parker begin a relationship, and have their first date by swinging in the city. Afterwards, they witness TheDailyBugle.net's J. Jonah Jameson releasing a doctored video of Mysterio and Spider-Man, claiming that Spider-Man is responsible for the Battle of London (during which Mysterio was killed) and exposing his identity as Parker.

Multiversal invasion edit

MJ is immediately surrounded by people asking her if she is Spider-Man's girlfriend, but is picked up by Parker and swung back to Parker's apartment where she meets Parker's aunt May. She is eventually interrogated and taken to custody by the Department of Damage Control along with May, Parker, and Leeds. MJ, Parker, and Leeds then become infamous, resulting in all their college applications being rejected.

She and Leeds are found by Stephen Strange and brought to the New York Sanctum to help Parker track down individuals from alternate universes who were brought to theirs after a spell went wrong. She and Leeds are instructed by Parker to keep watch over Strange's mystical box as he tries to help the individuals be cured of their villainous traits. At Leeds' grandmother's house, MJ encourages Leeds to use Strange's sling ring to try and locate Parker but instead a portal is opened with an alternate version of Parker (later code-named "Peter-Three") and another one (later code-named "Peter-Two") coming through. MJ and Leeds go to Midtown's rooftop and comfort an emotional Parker. They then introduce him to his two variants, who provide advice, and join them in Midtown's laboratory.

MJ and Leeds are attacked by Lizard after Leeds is unable to close the portal from Midtown to the Statue of Liberty, although Parker comes to their aid. MJ and Leeds escape onto the Statue and after Leeds opens another portal, witness Strange walking out. MJ falls off of the statue after a pumpkin bomb from Osborn detonates on the mystical box, destabilizing the spell once more and threatening the fabric of reality. Parker tries to save her but is whisked away by Osborn. She is then saved by Peter-Three. She and Leeds are told by Parker that Strange would recast the spell on his request to erase him from everyone's memory in order to send the universe-displaced back. MJ confesses her love for Parker and kiss passionately before the spell takes effect.

Weeks later, MJ greets Leeds at her shop, both having been accepted into MIT, and meets Parker.

Reception edit

Casting controversy edit

Zendaya at the Spider-Man: Far From Home premiere in 2019

After the announcement of Zendaya's casting, controversy and speculation centered upon the fact that Zendaya, an African American actress, would be portraying Mary Jane Watson.[13][20] Media outlets defended Zendaya over the issue, along with the Guardians of the Galaxy film series director James Gunn and Mary Jane co-creator Stan Lee on social media.[21][20][22] Zendaya responded to the rumors of her character as Mary Jane by The Hollywood Reporter in an interview saying:

"Whenever we were on set, one of us gets some random character name [on the call sheet]. [Bloggers were] like, "Oh they must be so and so." And we just crack up about it, because it's like, 'Whatever you want to think. You'll find out.' It's funny to watch the guessing game. But of course there's going to be outrage over that because for some reason some people just aren't ready. I'm like, "I don't know what America you live in, but from what I see when I walk outside my streets of New York right now, I see lots of diversity and I see the real world and it's beautiful, and that's what should be reflected and that's what is reflected so you're just going to have to get over it."[13]

Zendaya also confirmed that despite the confusion, she is "100% Michelle" and not Mary Jane as many had speculated.[23] However Michelle is revealed to be nicknamed "MJ" in Homecoming, by which she is known for the entirety of Far From Home, while her full name is revealed to be Michelle Jones-Watson in No Way Home, though she says she goes by Michelle Jones.

Portrayal reaction edit

The character of MJ had a positive reception in Homecoming by film critics, with Zendaya referred to as a "scene stealer" in her first major film role, despite her limited screen-time.[24][25][26] Caitlin Busch of Inverse felt thankful that the character was not Mary Jane Watson and opined that the original character works better for the film.[27]

The character has also received positive feedback from a feminist perspective, especially in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Karen Han of Polygon felt that the character was a positive representation of strong female characters while additionally Vanity Fair noted how MJ was not portrayed as a warrior like Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter, Lupita Nyong'o's Nakia or Evangeline Lilly's Hope van Dyne but also not a damsel and declared her as the "MJ we both need and deserve".[28][29] Her personality was reminiscent to Daria Morgendorffer in Daria to some reporters.[28][30] Rachel Leishman of The Mary Sue described the MCU version of MJ as extremely important in Peter Parker's life.[31]

MJ, alongside Parker and Jacob Batalon's Ned Leeds were described as a "priceless trio" by Pete Hammond of Deadline Hollywood with his review of Spider-Man: No Way Home.[32] The relationship between the three characters in the films were noted as more matured by Brian Lowry of CNN.[33] Sam Machkovech of Ars Technica also praised the trio's chemistry noting that in the second film both MJ and Ned had a rivalry with each other of Peter's relationship but in the third film they were ultimately more bonded together.[34] The chemistry in Spider-Man: No Way Home of MJ and Tom Holland's Parker was praised by RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico. Brian opined that the film is the first of the films to let their relationship to shine. He also noted, "she nails the emotional final beats of her character in a way that adds weight to a film that can feel a bit airy in terms of performance."[35] Don Kaye of Den of Geek also praised the chemistry of MJ with Parker and also noted that both she and Batalon "provide gentle comic relief".[36] Jennifer Bisset of CNET described her role as much more to do in the third film and also noted of Zendaya's role being gifted of character growth.[37] Eli Glasner of CBC News described "formerly mopey" MJ as having an stronger footing with Parker in the third film.[38]

Accolades edit

Zendaya has received numerous nominations and awards for her portrayal of MJ.

Year Film Award Category Result Ref(s)
2017 Spider-Man: Homecoming Teen Choice Awards Choice Breakout Movie Star Nominated [39]
Choice Summer Movie Actress Won
2018 Kids' Choice Awards Favorite Movie Actress Won [40]
Saturn Awards Best Performance by a Younger Actor in a Film Nominated [41]
2019 Spider-Man: Far From Home Teen Choice Awards Choice Summer Movie Actress Won [42]
Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actress Won [43]
People's Choice Awards Female Movie Star of 2019 Won [44]
2020 Kids' Choice Awards Favorite Movie Actress Nominated [45]
2022 Spider-Man: No Way Home Critics' Choice Super Awards Best Actress in a Superhero Movie Nominated [46]
Kids' Choice Awards Favorite Movie Actress Won [47]
MTV Movie & TV Awards Best Kiss[c] Nominated [48]
BET Awards Best Actress Won [49]
Saturn Awards Best Actress in a Film Nominated [50]

In other media edit

A cosmetic outfit based on MJ was added to Fortnite Battle Royale in December 2021 to coincide with the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, along with an outfit based on Tom Holland's portrayal of Spider-Man.[51]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ During the events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018).
  2. ^ During the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019).
  3. ^ Shared with Tom Holland.

References edit

  1. ^ a b Newby, Richard (December 17, 2021). "All the Comics, Video-Game, and MCU Easter Eggs You Might Have Missed in Spider-Man: No Way Home". Vulture. Archived from the original on December 18, 2021. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  2. ^ Romano, Nick. "'Spider-Man' director confirms Zendaya character name". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on July 25, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  3. ^ Cheeda, Saim (November 25, 2019). "Spider-Man: Mary Jane vs Michelle Jones: Who Is Better?". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  4. ^ Davison, Josh (July 10, 2020). "Spider-Man: 5 Ways MCU MJ Is Different From The Classic Version (& 5 How They're Exactly The Same)". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  5. ^ a b "From Iron Man to Spider-Man — Ranking the Romances of the Marvel Cinematic Universe". Den of Geek. February 11, 2020. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
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  7. ^ a b Sciretta, Peter (April 3, 2017). "'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Set Visit: Everything We Learned – Page 2 of 3". /Film. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
  8. ^ Alter, Ethan. "Your Complete Guide to the 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Easter Eggs". Yahoo! Entertainment. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
  9. ^ Vejvoda, Jim (July 10, 2017). "Spider-Man: Homecoming Producers Say Twist to That Character Not What It Seems - IGN". Retrieved September 8, 2020. 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.
  10. ^ Crow, David (July 8, 2017). "Spider-Man: Homecoming Ending – Kevin Feige Talks Some Surprises". Den of Geek. Archived from the original on August 21, 2020. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
  11. ^ a b Zuckerman, Esther (July 10, 2017). "Zendaya in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' is perfection". Mashable. Archived from the original on January 21, 2022. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
  12. ^ a b c Brian, Greg (July 1, 2020). "Zendaya's MCU Character Changes Too Much Between Both 'Spider-Man' Movies, Fans Complain". Showbiz CheatSheet. Archived from the original on September 21, 2020. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
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  22. ^ Tilley, Steve (August 23, 2016). "'Spider-Man: Homecoming': Stan Lee endorses Zendaya as Mary Jane Watson". The Toronto Sun. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  23. ^ Bell, Crystal. "Zendaya Says Her Spider-Man Character Is '100 Percent' Michelle, Not Mary Jane". MTV News. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  24. ^ DeFore, John (June 29, 2017). "'Spider-Man: Homecoming': Film Review | Hollywood Reporter". www.hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
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External links edit