Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), Michelle Jones (Zendaya), and Mary Jane (Laura Bailey) in different Spider-Man movies/games
(Sony Entertaiment / Sony Interactive)

The Spider-Man Games Are Part of an Ongoing Evolution for Mary Jane

Mary Jane Watson is so much more than just Peter Parker's love interest.

Mary Jane Watson, the iconic main love interest of Spider-Man/Peter Parker, started out as a representation of the shifting youth culture of the 1960s. She was wild, fun, and daring. However, times change.

Recommended Videos

Mary Jane both has and hasn’t changed with them, with many adaptations changing aspects of her character to fit the era or different mediums. Generally, Mary Jane Watson has a few main features: a vibrant and outgoing personality, a troubled home life, and a career focused on the arts (usually acting/theatre, but sometimes music).

This is the blueprint that most of the many Spider-Man adaptations follow, and in many ways, the blueprint still works. The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series’ version of the character is especially interesting as, while she does go with Peter to a dance in her first appearance, she and Peter are more friends than love interests, with her going so far as to help him navigate his love triangle with Liz Allen and Gwen Stacy.

However, Mary Jane as a character gets especially interesting when creators deliberately break from the mold.

Mary Jane Watson (Sam Raimi films)

Kirsten Dunst waving as Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man
(Sony Pictures Releasing)

Played by Kirsten Dunst, Mary Jane in Sam Raimi’s films is arguably more of a Gwen Stacy-type “girl next door” than the wildly independent Mary Jane from the comics. She’s more of a traditional damsel in distress and even gets the infamous scene of Green Goblin throwing her off a bridge, though thankfully her version ends better.

The facets of her character that they do maintain are her abusive relationship with her father, her desire to become an actress, and her many love interests. Mary Jane’s difficult relationship with her father contrasts her with Peter, who, despite his tragedies, has always had a very loving home and family. Mary Jane’s troubled home life means that she craves validation from others, hence her love of performing and her romantic relationships with her two best male friends, Peter Parker and Harry Osborn.

Unfortunately, her family and relationship issues come to a head in the third movie, when Symbiote Peter begins exhibiting abusive tendencies, culminating in him accidentally hitting her when she tries to break up a fight. The one man Mary Jane trusted to never hurt her has hit her, in a scene that directly references a controversial comic where a similar moment of abuse occurred.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t get a terribly satisfying conclusion, as she and Peter never really discuss what happened, and the movie ends with them dancing together at the same place he hit her.

Michelle Jones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Zendaya as MJ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
(Sony Pictures Releasing)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Michelle Jones, played by Zendaya, is probably the most radical reimagining of the character to date. Instead of making her a red-headed party girl, Michelle is studious and inquisitive with a love for true crime and conspiracy. She’s also very socially aware, not wanting to join her class in a trip up the Washington Monument due to its connection to slavery.

Some people argue that a lot of the traditional aspects of Mary Jane missing from this character mean that she might as well not be the character. However, Michelle’s personality shift also shows how Mary Jane is a product of her time. This Mary Jane is a little more cynical and guarded, mostly hiding her attraction to Peter behind sarcasm early on. She takes as much from Daria as she does from Mary Jane, which highlights the changes from the 1960s. The definition of a “modern girl” has changed, and Mary Jane has changed with her.

Also, we cannot ignore the fact that she is the first non-white Mary Jane. Zendaya has made it a point in her career to audition for roles traditionally given to white women as her way of breaking down barriers and not taking roles away from other Black women. She faced a lot of racist backlash for the role, much like Halle Bailey with The Little Mermaid or Candice Patton, the actress who played Iris West, the love interest in The CW’s The Flash.

People often complain about Black women being cast as characters who were previously portrayed as white. However, I think it’s funny that so many of these characters are also redheads, which only occurs naturally in less than 2% of the world’s population. Perhaps the bigger question we should be asking is why have been more redheaded characters than Black characters in Marvel/Disney/DC for most of the last 60 years.

Mary Jane Watson (PlayStation Games)

Mary Jane in Sony's Spider-Man 2 PlayStation 5 game.
(Sony Interactive Entertainment)

The current Spider-Man video games’ Mary Jane might not be as different as Michelle, but she is still a marked departure from many previous character adaptations. Much like Mary Jane in the animated Ultimate Spider-Man, Mary Jane in the Spider-Man games is a reporter for the Daily Bugle. Mary Jane is given multiple sequences in the games where she needs to sneak around criminals.

Some fans have decried this as another instance of inaccuracy, turning Mary Jane into Lois Lane. However, it’s also important to remember the difference in medium. Video games are a very active medium, and being able to play as a main character goes a long way to solidifying their impact on the audience. After complaints about Mary Jane’s stealth sequences in the first game, instead of caving to fan demand and scrapping them altogether, developer Insomniac Games improved on Mary Jane’s sequences immensely, with many players now comparing playing as Mary Jane to playing The Last of Us.

It does help that Mary Jane Watson being a badass is far from a new concept; Mary Jane received self-defense lessons from Captain America in the comics and has donned the Spider-Man mask or another superhero persona on occasion.

The PlayStation games have also done a lot to establish Mary Jane as an independent person who may be Spider-Man’s girlfriend but is also a character and hero in her own right. Arguably, that’s all we could ask for: a Mary Jane who’s a character who loves Spider-Man but exists outside of him.

(featured image: Sony Pictures Releasing/Sony Interactive Entertainment)

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Kimberly Terasaki
Kimberly Terasaki
Kimberly Terasaki is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She has been writing articles for them since 2018, going on 5 years of working with this amazing team. Her interests include Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Horror, intersectional feminism, and fanfiction; some are interests she has held for decades, while others are more recent hobbies. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan.