If you’re a fan of the Spider-Man movie series then you will know that in 2002, Kirsten Dunst took on the role of Mary Jane Watson in the film, Spider-Man. Appearing opposite Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, Dunst then reprised the part of Mary Jane (‘MJ’) for 2004’s Spider-Man 2 and 2007’s Spider-Man 3.
Mary Jane played a significant part in the movies, entering an on/off romantic relationship with Peter Parker across the course of the trilogy. This relationship mirrored the romantic connection the characters shared in the original comics, and became a popular on-screen pairing.
But when it came to the next collection of Spider-Man movies, aka The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), Mary Jane Watson was nowhere to be seen. Peter Parker – now played by Andrew Garfield – was no longer romantically linked to Mary Jane, and instead found a new love in Gwen Stacy, as played by Emma Stone.
This romantic relationship lasted for two movies before Gwen was sadly killed off and The Amazing Spider-Man films came to an end. The Spider-Man movies were then rebooted, with actor Tom Holland now taking over the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man for a collection of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man came another new romantic relationship, which (sort of) began in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, before taking shape in 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home and then continuing in 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. This relationship was between Peter Parker and a character called ‘MJ’, as played by Zendaya.
But rather oddly, when Zendaya’s ‘MJ’ made her first appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming she was known as Michelle, leading to a little confusion amongst audiences. Was Zendaya playing a character called Michelle or was she supposed to be MJ aka Mary Jane Watson?
In the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies, Zendaya is playing the role of Michelle – a new character to the Spider-Man movie universe. Michelle has not appeared in a Spider-Man movie prior to her appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and is introduced into the film series for the first time.
For the majority of her initial appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming she is simply known as Michelle. It isn’t until the very end of the movie that she is given the nickname ‘MJ’.
Michelle is referred to as ‘MJ’ as a nod to Mary Jane Watson. She is not playing the role of Mary Jane, nor does she share Mary Jane’s character traits; the use of the ‘MJ’ name is merely an in-joke to fans. Think of it as an allusion to that other character and nothing more.
When Zendaya reappears as Michelle in Spider-Man: Far From Home, she retains the name ‘MJ’. This is because many fans associate Spider-Man with a girlfriend called Mary Jane/MJ, so the Michelle name is somewhat phased out.
Some fans have suggested that Michelle is the MCU’s reworked interpretation of the Mary Jane Watson character, and in many ways this is true. But technically she is not Mary Jane; she is merely a character who shares a similar name.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post about MJ in the MCU. For more posts, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.