EDITORIAL: Reintroducing Mary Jane Watson In The New Franchise and Ideal Character Conceptions
Mary Jane is such a crucial and significant part of the Spider-Man mythos. With Marc Webb re-introducing movie fans to the iconic redhead, this is a great chance to breathe new life into the character and possibly, to introduce the 616 or Ultimate versions of Mary Jane.
As those darned Amazing Spider-Man set photos continue to be released, we passionate comic book fans may publicize our differing opinions on the heated Mary Jane Watson "hotness" issue. While it is understandable that certain fans are frenzied by Mary Jane's physicality (or lack thereof), that is an explosive issue that I do not wish to bring up. Fortunately, there is another topic of discussion to be had, and hopefully, it doesn't induce reactions as violent as the ones that have been pervading websites as of late.
See, regardless of your disposition on the casting of Woodley, I think it's reasonable to believe that she has something to offer to the audience provided that she delivers a great portrayal. I do not intend on reopening old wounds and letting them fester in the open air of opposing opinions by bringing Mary Jane up again. Rather, I think a discussion of a topic less sensitive and more agreeable would mend those wounds.
And, as most people on the site would agree, it wasn't simply being a fictional sex symbol that made most love Mary Jane over the years. There were certain irreplaceable things that made her such a rich character and an unrivaled star in the Spider-Man mythos. These elements that make the iconic redhead so rich, so interesting, and relevant are arguably what we fans universally enjoy about the character. As a result, I think it's imperative that we get a Mary Jane that does justice to our conceptions.
However, for Mary Jane - a character so rich in history and versions - and taking into consideration how Mary Jane might be able to fit in Marc Webb's universe given the circumstances he established in the first movie, a few questions still remain. What kind of Mary Jane do we want to see (one that will still fit Webb's world)? How will that Mary Jane be done justice? What significant role shall she play?
The comics would be a good place to start. In the mainstream 616 narrative in comics, Mary Jane is first introduced to Peter after an extended period of him avoiding an arrangement between the two by his precious Aunt May. Much to his surprise, Mary Jane wasn't the dowdy and dull girl he was expecting her to be, but rather, the exuberant and outspoken party-girl who actually turned out to be attractive. Peter, at this point in time, was a viable bachelor who had 3 women at his disposal: Mary Jane, Gwen Stacy, and Betty Brant. Ultimately, he ended up identifying with Gwen the most and started a serious relationship with her even though Mary Jane would playfully flirt with Peter on occasion.
However, after Gwen's death at the Green Goblin's hands, Mary Jane starts playing the more crucial role of the "love of his life". Though Peter was reluctant in confiding in anyone initially, he finds comfort in Mary Jane - who at the time was also suffering from personal problems. Their mutual sense of agony becomes a unifying force between the two. Sensing her more "true" understanding and deeper side, Peter finds a good friend and a suitable lover. Despite a problem-filled (but stable) relationship, and after multiple cases of "I have to lie to you because I'm a Superhero" syndrome, Peter and Mary Jane finally marry each other. Throughout their relationship together, Mary Jane remained supportive and understanding to Peter as she always knew that he was Spider-Man.
In the Ultimate comics, however, Mary Jane turned out very different from her 616 counterpart even though the core essence of the character was kept. She was still a popular girl at Peter's school but her compassion and understanding were exhibited from square one. There certainly wasn't more than meets the eye for this rendion as she made no effort to conceal her inner kindness. Furthermore, a relationship between Peter and her bloomed much earlier than it did in 616. From very early on, it was evident that she was Peter Parker's only true love as he immediately identified with her on a personal level. He already made the decision to reveal his secret identity to her during the first few issues of the series and as a result, the two created a strong relationship of love and trust. Any subsequent relationship that ol' Pete had with any other girl (even Gwen Stacy) ended up failing miserably because it was clear, even from the beginning, that Mary Jane was the only one.
So, now we have 2 very different portrayals of the iconic redhead. Both are important players, but individually, they either play a different role, or fill the same purpose differently. So which Mary Jane will Marc Webb bring to the table? 616? Ultimate? Maybe Both? How will it turn out?
As with most comic book to big screen adaptations, various versions of the character are amalgamated and turned into something along the lines of the directorial vision. Obviously, Marc Webb cannot give a completely faithful 616 or Ultimate rendition of MJ. While he needs to borrow aspects from both, he ultimately create his own Mary Jane in order to portray something that suits his universe, and to give a different take on the character while still remaining true to the roots.
Realistically, it would make sense that the Mary Jane we get in this franchise is similar to the Ultimate version. Given Shailene Woodley's adeptness in playing the archetypal good girls with her most famous show, "The Secret Life of an American Teenager" and upcoming film "The Spectacular Now", it's reasonable to believe that she was cast because she can deliver a more light hearted and kinder Mary Jane - much akin to the Ultimate one.
The problem with going down this route is that the strength of the Peter-MJ relationship in the Ultimate comics relied on the fact that they related to each other personally even before they had a relationship. Peter was heavily misunderstood by those around him and at those time of difficulties, it would be Mary Jane who would provide him solace and comfort.
In the "Amazing Spider-Man" , Gwen Stacy, evidently, already fills this role. It's crystal clear that she is the one for Peter as she's an intellectual and personal equal, and they've established a relationship of trust and understanding by having Peter reveal his identity early on. Should they choose to use Mary Jane at this point, it would mean that the two love interests would essentially be offering the same thing - they'd be filling the same niche. This, in my opinion, would cause a huge redundancy and it would make Peter's choice between Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy boil down to whoever he finds more attractive - or whoever lives longer.
Personally, what I and many other comic books fans would like to see is the 616 version brought to life. Woodley's role in "The Descendants" parallels the 616 Mary Jane's personality to a considerable degree. In that film, she was a rebellious high school student who continues to grow estranged from her father. She hides behind the layers of defiance and exuberance to mask her inner turmoil and personal problems. Sound familiar yet?
Arguably, Kirsten Dunst already delivered a close portrayal of mainstream Mary Jane. Their aspirations, motivations, and sometimes, their method of achieving things were relatively similar. However, Sam Raimi, in essence, simply delivered his own rendition of Mary Jane. There were some very similar parallels to the main comic book Mary Jane but things played out differently enough for that Mary Jane to be considered her own entity and not a simple adaptation. Thankfully, this provides Marc Webb with a chance to actually incorporate a comic book adapted 616 version Mary Jane.
There is a lot of potential for this rendition as they can heavily play on the "more than meets the eye" element of Mary Jane. Much like the comics, the audience can be introduced to the character as the party-oriented bombshell who is notable for her beauty and street smarts. We discover that goal-oriented and knows how to get what she wants through her feminine wiles or cleverness . However, later on, we could realize that she is indeed a deeper character than what we thought initially as she reveals her inner compassion and maturity. This is a good way to add layers upon layers to the character and to introduce a highly independent woman in this franchise of films.
The problem for this one, would be to not let Mary Jane's importance overshadow the still developing Gwen and Peter relationship. Though she has to be assertive of her goals, in order for us to like her, she can't be too clingy towards Peter like she was in the comics. For the comics, Mary Jane as a distraction worked because she wasn't necessarily introduced with the intention of making her a serious interest, but rather, an added "flavor" to the story.
Additionally, if the studio decides to limit themselves to only 3 movies like many superhero franchises do, there is very little room for the essential development of MJ and Peter. With Gwen's death should come a considerable period of grievance, a change/maturation in the Mary Jane character, and the bloom and flourishing of a relationship between her and Peter. That's an awful lot to cram in 1 or 2 (maybe) movies.
Admittedly, I'm only an amateur writer for sites like ComicBookMovie, so I don't hold all the details to adapting this character. I'm positive that there are a whole heap of ways to adapt Mary Jane on the big screen and that Marc Webb and co are coming up with great things in the current production. It is my hope that they deliver an inspired take on Mary Jane while still providing the elements of the character that we, fans, oh so love.
Those are simply my thoughts on the possibilities and limitations of the different Mary Janes. Do you agree? What kind of Mary Jane do you want to see in the film? Generate a discussion by telling us YOUR ideal conception of the character. If you enjoyed this article, then give a THUMBS UP
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