Mary Jane Watson is easily the most recognizable character associated with Spider-Man. She’s beautiful, feisty and, almost always, the quintessential damsel in distress. Literally, every single one of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies featured MJ getting kidnapped by a villain in order to get Spider-Man’s attention. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though, we finally have an MJ who breaks the mold.
(Some spoilers ahead for 'Spider-Man: Far From Home'.)
The MCU’s interpretation of MJ is wildly different from the comics. For one thing, she’s not Mary Jane Watson anymore. Zendaya’s Michele Jones is a fresh take on the iconic character, so fresh in fact that fans didn’t even realize she was MJ till the very end of ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’. While the wise-cracking, portrait-sketching, brunette MJ of ‘Homecoming’ was a pleasant surprise, in ‘Far From Home’ we get even more proof of why this is the best MJ yet.
In the comics, MJ has been a pillar of support for Peter Parker, giving him a shoulder to cry on in his darkest moments. She’s been extremely helpful when it comes to taking out some of Peter’s more outlandish enemies. But she's always played more of a supporting role for the wall-crawler, rarely ever showing any skills that might help turn the tide of battle. The MCU version of MJ is different in that aspect because she is revealed to be quite the detective, deducing both Peter’s secret identity (though that couldn’t have been particularly hard) and Mysterio’s deception.
Though she does eventually end up in a distressing position, at least this time MJ is in danger because of her own actions and not those of her super-powered boyfriend. The MCU has allowed MJ to grow into her potential instead of being turned into a tired cliche. This is only further proof that the approach Marvel has taken for adapting Spider-Man to the big screen is the way to go for future superhero movies.
Characters like Spider-Man and Batman already have a well-established origin story that has been played out over and over again in multiple movies, comics, and games. By leaving the origins untouched and creating new versions of iconic characters, superhero movies can strike the balance between engaging new viewers and pleasing hardcore fans. In the process, they can also update the portrayal of certain characters to better reflect the times we live in now.
MJ isn’t the only character who has received a fresh reinterpretation in the movies and, hopefully, she won’t be the last. Because honestly, there are far too many high-potential characters like her who have been totally underused in live-action.