It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s two leading ladies Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson finally meet! And New York City doesn’t combust! But what’s got us talking even more than MJ and Gwen possibly getting along is how devoted this sequel seems to be to transforming the characters from what we remember in the comics and the original movie trilogy.
Several outlets have posted set photos from Brooklyn, where the house that stands in for Peter Parker’s digs is located (even though canonically Peter lives in Queens, but whatever). Andrew Garfield was nowhere to be seen, because even though in this scene Gwen (Emma Stone) goes to visit her on-again, off-again webslinger boyfriend, the real drama is when she encounters her girl-next-door rival Mary Jane (Shailene Woodley).
Even after looking at these photos from all angles, it’s unclear if MJ is sitting on her own porch next door or Peter’s—but yes, she’s literally his neighbor. You know, just your average high school girl sitting around catching up on English class reading.
Is Mary Jane fixing the Parkers’ porch? Have screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci taken the whole girl-next-door persona incredibly literally and made her some kind of DIY/fix-it whiz? Is she doing extra-credit work for woodshop?
This is not the Mary Jane we know from the comics, a seemingly superficial party girl who doesn’t want to be tied down. Nor does she resemble Kirsten Dunst’s character from the 2002 Spider-Man, an earthy, funky aspiring actress/singer. Woodley’s MJ seems a lot tougher and more self-sufficient, channeling the James Dean archetype in her leather/jean jacket combo, but who’s also contemplative enough to read. (Points if anyone can identify what book she’s carrying around!)
Of course, neither is Stone’s Gwen who we were expecting: In addition to rebooting Peter’s origin story, The Amazing Spider-Man reimagined Gwen as a super-smart, proactive budding scientist, mature for her age yet still just as painfully awkward as Peter. The only thing she really shares with Bryce Dallas Howard’s take on the character from Spider-Man 3 is that blonde hair and ever-present headband. Though, let’s just say it—this new Gwen Stacy has the fiercest style. I seriously want her entire wardrobe.
In Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, a symbiote-possessed Peter eventually pursues Gwen to make MJ jealous—hence Gwen is set up to represent everything that MJ is not. It’s clear that the same dynamic is at play here, except that Gwen is Peter’s very pretty, feminine girlfriend, while Mary Jane is the tough tomboy who probably overwhelms shy Peter at first but ultimately may be able to cope with the dangers of his secret identity better than Gwen can.
The prevailing fan theory is that (spoiler) after Gwen dies, MJ comforts Peter, and their friendship turns into love. But judging from these photos and this video, the producers don’t seem to be pushing the reverse love triangle in the same way that The Hunger Games has Peeta and Gale fighting over Katniss, or how Twilight delighted in pitting Edward and Jacob against each other in every single installment. Gwen and Mary Jane have sized each other up and seem to each be content with what she represents for Peter.
Which is great, because it is far more interesting being surprised by the girls themselves than guessing which one of them gets the guy.
Natalie Zutter is a playwright, foodie, and pop culture blogger. Her writing has appeared on BlackBook, Ology, and Crushable, where she discusses celebrity culture alongside internet memes (or vice versa). Weekly you can find her calling in to the Hunger Games Fireside Chat podcast, reviewing new releases at Movie Mezzanine, and on Twitter.