In true Marvel Cinematic Universe fashion, there's been a lot of mystery surrounding the plot points and details of Spider-Man: Homecoming. But no rumor has been as pervasive as whether or not Zendaya plays Mary-Jane Watson in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Well, we finally have the answer — major spoilers ahead — and can definitively say that Zendaya is not playing Mary-Jane, but she is playing MJ.
Confused? Here's the deal: for a majority of the movie, Zendaya's character is known as Michelle (not Mary-Jane), but when she settles into a leadership role on the academic decathlon team, she tells Peter and his friends, "My friends call me MJ." And, there you have it. Zendaya is playing MJ in Spider-Man: Homecoming, she's just — twist! — not named Mary-Jane.
The fact that Zendaya plays MJ in Homecoming is not entirely unexpected. When the actor officially announced she would be joining the MCU in March of 2016, the powers that be were curiously tight-lipped about her character, but most immediately jumped to the conclusion that, as the first young female cast member to be announced, she would be playing a potential love interest for Peter Parker. A few months later, The Wrap reported that a source on set had confirmed Zendaya was playing MJ, aka Mary-Jane Watson, arguably Peter Parker's most beloved love interest, but the actor denied the reports, telling MTV News, "My character is 100 percent Michelle. That's her name. I promise I'm not lying."
Technically, Zendaya was not lying when she said she wasn't playing Mary-Jane, but, for the sake of simplicity, let's just assume that MJ is the same love interest character. The only thing Homecoming tweaked was the first name on her birth certificate. Granted, this new MJ is very different from the MJ's we've seen before, specifically the Mary-Jane from the original Spider-Man trilogy, as played by Kirsten Dunst. In Spider-Man (2002), MJ was more of a popular girl, an aspiring actor who dated Harry Osborn and played the role of the girl next door, the person Peter was hopelessly in love with.
In Homecoming, Michelle/MJ isn't interested in being friends with Peter, she's just his classmate. She jokingly calls him a "loser" for openly lusting after Liz, the academic decathlon president, she enjoys sitting alone at lunch with her books, and she refuses to visit the Washington Monument because it was built by slaves. But what really sets Michelle apart from the MJ's of the past is that she is never — not once — a damsel in distress. Michelle survives the entire Homecoming movie without once needing Spider-Man (or Peter Parker, for that matter) to save her. If all we have to sacrifice for this kind of MJ is the name Mary-Jane, then I'm all for it.