Spider-Man: Homecoming might be the first Spidey movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but it also marks the third Peter Parker debut on the big screen in less than two decades. At this point, fans of the web-slinger have seen it all when it comes to Peter, so it makes sense that it isn't the superhero who breaks the mold in the newest film, but the movie's women. As played by Zendaya and Laura Harrier, respectively, Spider-Man: Homecoming's Michelle and Liz defy the traditional love interest roles in a truly admirable way.
Absent of both Gwen Stacy and Mary-Jane Watson, both of whom were love interests in the two previous Spider-Man franchises, Homecoming introduces two new female characters in Michelle and Liz. In the film, Michelle and Liz are on the academic decathlon team with Peter, and while Peter and Michelle are friendly, it's Liz that he is hopelessly in love with. So far, it might sound like Homecoming is just recycling classic teenage superhero movie plot points, but I can safely say that Michelle and Liz are unlike any Spider-Man love interests I have ever seen before. Liz, for one, is the president of the decathlon team, and she's much smarter than Peter. It's a complete 180 from, say, the dynamic between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, or MJ and Peter from the 2002 Spider-Man. She's also older than Peter (a senior) and, notably, not white (Michelle isn't, either), like nearly every other love interest in the MCU.
The fact that both Michelle and Liz are women of color is no small thing. On a purely cosmetic level, these ladies' looks break the mold of almost all previous superhero love interests. Liz, who takes on a kind of Gwen Stacy-esque role in the film, is not blonde, nor blue-eyed. And Michelle, a (major spoiler alert) new take on MJ, isn't a redhead. A non-white woman playing the love interest in a superhero movie is still a rare sight to behold, and Homecoming has two. Liz's role in particular as the main love interest is a first for the MCU, which has yet to feature a prominent interracial relationship (Guardians of the Galaxy has come closest). And Harrier herself is aware at how groundbreaking Liz's relationship with Peter is, telling The Love Magazine, "To be a woman of color playing the love interest in a movie like this — that's really exciting."
Not only that, but the two characters are also styled quite differently from the average superhero love interests. Liz has more of a classic, traditionally feminine look, with flawless skin and crazy long lashes, but she's also not dressed in miniskirts and crop tops the entire time. She's far from the perfectly put together Gwen Stacy of The Amazing Spider-Man, for example. As for Michelle, her look is a huge change from the norm: no makeup. That's right, there is a (future) love interest in a major blockbuster who doesn't appear to wear any makeup. It's just one of the many things that make her stand out from the sea of women in superhero films, as Zendaya has noted. "She's just different, and I think there's so many different types of beautiful women out there, why not showcase different types of beautiful women?" the actor said in an interview with EW. Hey, you won't find me complaining.
This isn't to say that the female characters in Spider-Man: Homecoming, specifically Michelle and Liz, are perfect. None of the women appear in scenes without Peter Parker, and their personal lives and feelings are barely explored. Liz is put in the damsel in distress role in a critical scene, and Michelle, in particular, isn't given much more to do then ring off one-liners about protests and her distaste for trivial high school problems. This lack of character development is probably due to the fact that she's not the main love interest in the film, but perhaps her future role as MJ means that she'll eventually become a full-fledged character. Her portrayal and Liz's in this movie are a great start, but it'd be even better to see the ladies of Spider-Man grow as independent characters outside their relationships with Peter Parker.