Spider-Man: No Way Home reveals Michelle “MJ” Jones’ full name. Are fans excited by this information, or disappointed? **Major spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home**
A Disclaimer, A Mini-Review… and Mini Rant
To be completely transparent and to forewarn readers of the direction this article will be going, let me start by saying that I enjoyed this film. I also found enjoyment in the previous two films. That being said, I do not enjoy Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I know he is a very gifted actor with a good range and is good with action and stunts and the like.
My issue is several-fold: I don’t enjoy his particular choices for how he approaches the Peter Parker character (in particular his wide-eyed “gee-willikers” attitude and line delivery). While Holland’s Parker does wisecrack, I feel the actor does too much to seem young (he does actually look young, which I’ll get into later) and innocent. The Peter Parker I know was always a bit of a wise guy and a know-at-all. He has a heart but he cracks wise and is sarcastic. I also didn’t think we needed another white cishet Peter Parker when Miles Morales was the obvious choice for more diversity and something different. Sony/the MCU also took a lot from Miles to give to Peter-Tingle including his Asian best friend and science academy. Peter usually stands out by being one of the few students interested in science and was bullied for it, now he went to a science academy where everyone shared similar interests. Not to mention this version is essentially Iron Man Jr. when Peter ought to have his own legacy and is also the flagship hero of all of Marvel Comics. He doesn’t need Iron Man.
Despite my immense dislike of Tom Holland as Peter-Tingle, I did enjoy the movie for the most part. I felt the nostalgia factor of seeing familiar faces of previous films helped my enjoyment immensely. I was genuinely happy to see Andrew Garfield again, the misunderstood Peter Parker (lots of viewers for his films never read Ultimate Spider-Man and I always assumed his Peter Parker was based on Ultimate Peter Parker aka Peter Parker from Earth-1610 who was less nerdy than the traditional Peter Parker in his high school years). I squealed when I saw Tobey Maguire. It was real. I felt the other Spider-Men and the villains really carried the movie for me personally and made me enjoy it as much as I did. I only wish we got to see Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane again and maybe a flashback of Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy (I don’t love Stone these days, but she was an excellent Gwen Stacy). But mentions and allusions to them and Harry Osborn from the Raimi films were still nice.
The acting and action were on point, and the special effects were good, but at times during the lighter quiet moments, it felt like I was watching a high-budget Disney Channel movie. Maybe it was the music choices for those sequences. I’m not sure. But when the action picked up, it really picked up. I could have done without Benedict Cumberwack (his family was slave-holders, fuck him, tbh) as Doctor Strange, especially since they established that Wong was now, albeit as a technicality, the sorcerer supreme now. But clearly, that was just a joke and we got to see Wong for all of two seconds doing absolutely little magic before he peaced out to leave the white guys to have their screen time together. Why couldn’t the new sorcerer supreme even cast a spell to summon a wind to blow away the snow in the Sanctorum, or maybe melt and/or evaporate it with magical flame or sun? Much like James Olsen during Supergirl on the CW, an ethnic person can get a promotion and be seen less.
But back to MJ in the MCU…
It was said by one of the executives at Sony that Zendaya’s character of Michelle “MJ” Jones was not Mary Jane Watson. It was said that the “MJ” nickname was merely a homage to the character and the dynamic between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in the comics. And what have we learned? People and even Hollywood executives lie.
We all knew that the casting of Zendaya in the role would bring out racist trolls, despite Coleman being light-skinned and biracial. The fact is that this MJ would not be white, nor a redhead (despite the fact that Coleman herself was shown rocking red hair on red carpets and publicly and showing she can pull off the look easily). It is likely that, in an attempt to appease certain fans, Sony changed the name of MJ’s character to Michelle Jones in an effort to have their cake and eat it too: she would become the main love interest (by the sequel anyway) and be called MJ, but it’s ok! She’s actually Michelle Jones! She’s not really Mary Jane Watson! They didn’t actually racebend the character… except they sorta did. Sorta.
The third entry, Spider-Man: No Way Home reveals that instead of Jones (like we were led to believe) being the character’s surname, her last name is actually Watson. As in MJ Watson. Her name is still Michelle Jones, but it is apparently Michelle Jones Watson or perhaps Michelle Jones-Watson. And with that reveal as well as the presence of the multiverse, it all boils down to this: whether Sony or Marvel Studios admit it or not, Michelle Jones is the MCU version of Mary Jane Watson with a different name.
A Massively Missed Opportunity
With the supposed surname of Jones, some fans suspected that Michelle Jones might not be another version of Mary Jane Watson, but instead another version of Angelica Jones aka Firestar. Firestar was originally created and introduced in the 1981 animated series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. She was a member of the Spider-Friends alongside Spider-Man himself and the mutant hero and member of the X-Men, Iceman. Originally they wanted to use the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, a character is known to be a best friend of Spider-Man in the comics, but they couldn’t use him due to legal restrictions. Firestar was created instead and she displayed a similar powerset of flame powers and the ability to fly. Angelica was also established as being a mutant and a fellow X-Man along with Iceman.
What also makes the Firestar connection a missed opportunity in the MCU is the fact that Angelica Jones, in her civilian identity, was designed to resemble Mary Jane Watson a great deal. Such a connection would have been incredibly clever as fans would have assumed Mary Jane, but instead, it would a someone who was designed to resemble her, leading to a misdirect, especially for fans previously unaware of Firestar and the origins of her design. Furthermore, Michelle being revealed to be Angelica (perhaps her given name was changed or was a nickname, or maybe ‘Angelica’ being either her true given name or perhaps her middle name), could have been the first mutant introduced into the MCU in a way many people would not have seen coming.
Expecting an otherwise normal “MJ” character to later discover she has powers could have been groundbreaking, especially for a visibly Black girl love interest. And while I genuinely watered a little when Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man saved MJ, with the pain, fear, and recollection of the death of Gwen Stacy written all over his face along with the relief he saved this young girl and spared his counterpart from suffering the same pain he did, I can’t help but wish that MJ had suddenly and unexpectedly saved herself by suddenly manifesting powers. It could have even been so subtle that even she herself and the characters in the movie could have not noticed it. Maybe just before hitting the ground, she briefly breaks her fall by defying gravity below her (and at least slightly scorching the earth below her in the process that she and the others don’t see, but the camera slowly pans down later for the audience to see. A masterful Easter egg), and the adrenaline and stress of the situation plus villains still coming after her means there’s no time to think about how or why she survived.
But alas, my heart and theories sank when the Watson name reveal was there. She wouldn’t be Firestar. She’d just be another powerless love interest vying for screen time with her on-screen love interest. MJ and Zendaya could have really been something different and special, and I’m sure Zendaya might love the opportunity to continue as the character in MCU X-Men films and/or solo Firestar films. We can use more Black girls in the MCU with powers. It can’t just be Monica Rambeau and (inevitably) Storm.
All This Talk of “Woke Marvel Being Defeated By Box Office Success”…
Apparently, racist fans are celebrating the success of the box office for Spider-Man: No Way Home by claiming that it’s a movie not trying to be woke has a white protagonist, and is doing better than movies that did try to be woke like The Eternals, Birds of Prey, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman: 1984 and the like.
First of all… I hate the term ‘woke’. I had to use it as much as I did here to get a point across as to what people are saying, but from here on out, I’ll be using ‘conscious’ or ‘socially aware’ instead. Secondly, the reason why Spidey is doing better than films like The Eternals, Shang-Chi (also fuck that movie because their male and female leads have displayed gross antiblackness and misogynoir, and have appropriated Black culture, respectively, and no, I won’t let it go or watch that movie, even for free), or Captain Marvel is that Spider-Man is a veteran film series even ignoring the comics, and is the most recognizable Marvel superhero in all of existence.
While some fans knew about Shang-Chi, the Eternals, Birds of Prey, and others, no one could ever say that they are more recognizable than Spider-Man. And while Wonder Woman is the most recognizable female superhero of all time, she, unfortunately, has not enjoyed nearly the same mainstream success as Spider-Man. She has never had a solo animated series or a solo console video game, only just had her genuine film debut in 2017 (technically the character and/or concept appeared in a tv movie in the ’70s, I believe, played by Bridget Crosby, but that version was mostly unrecognizable to the main version of the character in every way that counts and is largely ignored or discounted). Spider-Man has carried and starred in his own other media adaptations, very successfully (and some not so successfully) for decades. Wonder Woman often shows up as part of an ensemble, but rarely gets to stand on her own in other media up until recently (and in some rather good animated films, even if the first one didn’t let her fly. Yes, I hate when they don’t let her fly).
As for the conscious approach that recent superhero films have taken, those decisions and directions are reflective of society as it is changing now. It is not a problem for our media and art to shift and change with the times, because that is part of what art does. When everything was film noir or disco, was it a problem then? Probably for some people, but nevertheless, you can’t please everyone and you can’t ignore the evolution of society and of progress. Besides, despite my issues with how the MCU Spidey films treated Liz Allan in Homecoming (she just wasn’t involved enough and didn’t get the Spider-Man love interest treatment all the others got) or the missed opportunity with MJ I mentioned above, not to mention the co-opting of Miles Morales’s Asian best friend conveniently named ‘Ned Leeds’ to try and cover up the theft of that character than given to Peter-Tingle, the MCU films have skewed towards diversity in at least the supporting cast. Maybe the sidekicks didn’t have enough to do for some, but they were certainly there and involved. Not to mention, this was perhaps the first time a Spider-Man film acknowledged the mental illness of the villains instead of just dismissing their actions as “they’re evil, they need to be stopped by any means necessary, and actively trying to cure them and help them instead of fighting them where they inevitably die in the process. In fact, previously all of those villains had died by the end of their original movies. All of them. Is that not socially aware?
What We Need in the Future
Tom Holland has recently stated that he wants to say goodbye to Spider-Man and step aside for more young people to take the role. He has said that there have been three Spider-Mans (would it not be Spider-Men..?) and that we might be in need of a Spider-Gwen or a Spider-Woman now. While I agree Spider-Gwen and Spider-Woman (I’d also throw in Black Cat, Firestar, Silk, Spider-Girl, and Arachne) would be welcome, I think we also need live-action Miles Morales. Too much was taken from Miles and given to Peter-Tingle that I think it would be in very poor taste to let Holland be the last male live-action Spider-Man, for a while at least. Miles is needed for young Black and Latines kids to look up to.
And, possible unpopular opinion incoming, but I think both his parents should be visibly Black. Jefferson Davis should be a Black American, as he is normally portrayed, and Rio Morales should be played by Luna Lauren Velez, the actress who voices her in the mega-popular Into the Spider-Verse animated film. Not only is Velez gorgeous and an excellent actress, but we really need some Black love in the MCU. Plus it’s important that we have more visibility not just for Black people in general, but Afro-Latines people. Miles being culturally Latines does not have to hinge on having a non-Black Latines parent. You can be Latines while also being visibly Black, especially in New York of all places. And Luna Lauren Velez is New York royalty, who wouldn’t love to see her playing Miles’ mom in the flesh? Afro-Latines women deserve representation in this franchise in live-action as well as in animation.
My response to racist fans’ tears over diversity is fuck them. And fuck that. Give us Black and ethnic leads and not just love interests or sidekicks. Woman should not always equal white, and Black should not always equal male. And when we do get Miles, maybe let him have a Black love interest, like the super adorable ASL character Hailey Cooper from the Spider-Man: Miles Morales game. If No Way Home can bring in F.E.A.S.T. from those games, they sure can bring in Hailey. More Black women in the MCU and superhero franchises in general: heroes and leads, compelling villains, complex love interests and foils, and just great characters. MJ, whether she would be MCU Mary Jane or Firestar, should have had way more than just being a love interest, Sony and the MCU can do better and also let Black people have interactions and meaningful relationships with other Black people instead of being content with being tokens in non-Black spaces.