A Bright Side For The Spider-Man Reboot: A New Hope For Mary-Jane
Posted on Wednesday January 13, 2010, 09:02 by Helen O'Hara in Casting Couch
I really enjoyed Sam Raimi's first two Spider-Man films, and loved bits of his third*. But one thing always bugged me about them, and that's Mary-Jane Watson. Kristen Dunst can be a funny and likeable actress, but in these films she felt out of place, miscast and too blonde despite the dye job. Her MJ was basically wet: she was Gwen Stacey (always a more shy and retiring Spidey heroine) by another name, and made anyone who read the comics wish she'd stayed blonde, been renamed and died on the bridge at the end of that first film.
Of course, Gwen Stacey eventually turned up, in the shape of the normally redheaded Bryce Dallas Howard. But on behalf of a couple of close friends who happen to be redheaded, casting a redhead as the blonde Stacey does not make up for casting a blonde as one of pop culture's favourite redheads. Bryce Dallas Howard could have made rather a good MJ, but Gwen Stacey she was not. Swop her and Dunst and we might've been on to something.
This isn't to slag Dunst per se - just look at her in Bring It On or Get Over It or Interview with the Vampire (Her agent might want to look for scripts with the word "it" in the title, in fact, since that seems to work for her. Look, there's an "it" in "with the Vampire", OK?). But she just didn't fit. The comics' MJ, for those of you not in the know, was feisty, lively and as far from the movies' hesitant MJ as it's possible to be. Dunst's MJ never really felt like she could intimidate anyone, not even a pre-spider-bite Peter, whereas the comic's version is the girl who's just so effortlessly cool and so bubbly that she seems to glow. She's like Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend's Wedding, a less girly Elle from Legally Blonde, or one of those early Anne Hathaway roles in The Princess Diaries or The Devil Wears Prada (although with more confidence than either). In fact, Hathaway's a really good model for MJ: she should be that adorable, that smart and sparky, and if Hathaway herself is older than the necessary teen demographic, find someone else who'll fit. But really, really look.
Of course, it's as much script as actress. Dunst tried her best with a couple of moments in the first film (the kiss in the rain, say), but in the latter films MJ was reduced to a whiny irritation - something as down to weak scripting for the character as much as Dunst herself. After all, she hadn't always been standing in his doorway**; she'd been shagging his richer best mate.
It's the biggest mistake that Raimi made, and something that whoever takes up the reins next should really try to correct. Between the wet-as-a-dishcloth MJ and the wearisome Aunt May character (again, nothing against Rosemary Harris, who did terrific work with awful lines), Spidey's girls got seriously short shrift last time. The Spider-Man of the books always had strong, interesting women in his life; his film counterpart deserves the same.
*I actually kinda like the emo Spidey and that comedy strut down the street. I hated the mess and waste of having three villains (if they insisted on Venom, they should've set him up in the last act but crucially NOT actually shown him until film four).
**Worst. Line. Ever. Up there with, "Is it still raining? I hadn't noticed."
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Posted on Wednesday January 13, 2010, 11:59
Personally I liked Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane in the spider-man movies! I did think she suffered with Rami's desicion to make Gwen Stacey and Mary Jane essentially one character (when they are realyl quite different from each other in the comics!) In the first two movies, paticularly number 2, I felt that Dunst brought some heart to the movies. I agree, however, that she was getting further and further from the true essence of Mary Jane, and by the the 3rd movie, was a tad too drab and depressing to be honest!
I have a feeling that when the reboot happens, they will probably start with Gwen Stacey, which will open the door for many actresses and possibilities for great story telling (lifted straight from the pages of the book comic books!)
Posted on Wednesday January 13, 2010, 12:34
Totally agree with you, except for liking the emo spidey strut rubbish. Also it wasnt the only mistake Raimi made- Green Goblins costume anyone? MJ should be the sparky, intimidating but loaveable girl next door. She should not be whiny, irritating or wet. I remember when Dunst first got cast and I thought it was a mistake. Just didnt think she had the look or pizaz of MJ. If you check out ultimate spiderman first issues, MJ is the best thing in it. Who they should cast as the new MJ is another predicament though. - MJ has to be a sex bomb, feisty girl you want to be with, which I'm afraid to say Dunst isn't.
Posted on Wednesday January 13, 2010, 13:30
Would personally love to see Kristen Bell as MJ. Maybe a bit too petite for some people(unfortunately Scarlett Johannson cannot play every comicbook female in existence) as MJ but the girl has sass in truckloads.
I'd prefer if they avoided the whole origin story and just kept going like the old Bond films with a new actor every few years.
Bring back Norman Osbourne as the mastermind behind all of spidey's woes but stop him from donning the Goblin suit(Humberto Ramos design please!) until the third film as the head of the Sinister Six.
Wish they would throw in more lame ass villians like Shocker for spidey's average crimefighting scenes. Some of the lesser known characters who people really don't care for simply as a means of giving spidey a chance to kick some ass and crack some wise.
Posted on Wednesday January 13, 2010, 13:39
I really think emma stone from superbad and zombieland should be given a crack at MJ. She can be funny and serious while still actually supporting the redhead cause... she is also young enough to get away with it for another 3 films (as would be the case) plus I think she could work with a possible nicholas hoult as spiderman again dream casting methinks
Posted on Wednesday January 13, 2010, 13:51
Wow Helen I couldn't disagree more with your take on Mary Jane. I think she would be more likely play the Julia Roberts part in My Best Friend's Wedding than the Cameron Diaz part. MJ is the lead cheerleader, she's the hottest chick around. The Diaz character in MBFW is so innocent, she would be a worst MJ than Dunst. MJ and Peter are in a Universe apart and it's by shear luck that she end up with Peter. Gwen Stacy would be more like the Cameron Diaz character in MBFW. Although less innocent.
Posted on Wednesday January 13, 2010, 14:26
The standing in your doorway line is fine, IMO. In a world where we know what happens when toads get struck by lightning (it's the same as happens to everything else, in case you didn't know), this little bit of romanticism is absolutely fine with me.
Fair point, she was miscast as MJ. The whole Raimi-ousting reboot is still a disgrace.
Posted on Wednesday January 13, 2010, 14:32
I think Raimis MJ was a more realistic one - she's exactly the character you'd expect to come out of her home life, she makes brave choices but is always found vulnerable. By brave i mean... say - she leaves three different boyfriends throughout the trilogy, when she realizes she deserves better (two of them are very successful guys - but she always winds up waitressing). I think Sam set up the Mary Jane that your thinking of, and then developed her from that starting point. In Spider-man three she doesn't resemble that MJ at all - but why should she, three films have gone by! The character needs to develop!
Posted on Wednesday January 13, 2010, 18:50
I have to be honest - I am delighted with this reboot. I never got on with Tobey Maguire or Dunst in the lead roles. Who wants a superhero that looks like he's about to burst out crying every 5 minutes?
The first three films certainly had things to like but didn't have the comic book feel of Iron Man or even last year's Incredible Hulk. These were fun films that felt a part of the Marvel universe - it's a shame Sony hold the rights as it would be great to see the odd character form other comics pop up from time to time.
The spiderman films so far haven't captured the tone or fun of the comics, yes Peter Parker has a stressful time and juggles the pressure of two lives, but this could be portrayed as a side issue not the whole bleedin' storyline.
All in all - get in a younger Spiderman (Zach Effron is a GREAT idea), reduce the character of Mary Jane so who plays her is irrelevant, and get a storyline that has a bit of mystery/slueth work attached plus some random run ins with villains that aren't necessarily part of the overall storyline.
Leave the brooding to Batman - he's better at it - and for the love of God get rid of the irritating aunt!
Posted on Wednesday January 13, 2010, 20:41
@Ramirez: I'm not sure how much say Marvel has in the Spiderman films, but since one of the big recent storylines ended up wiping out Peter and MJ's marriage in favour of keeping Aunt May alive, I think it's safe to say she'll be in any reboot.
OT: The moment I saw Bryce Dallas Howard in Spidey 3, I thought she should have been MJ, but never mind. Maybe for the reboot? Kristin Bell isn't a bad idea either. But it wasn't so much the casting, more the scripts. Spidey 1 was fine, from what I recall, but she just seemed to get progressively wetter. Of course, by 3, when she actually had legitimate reasons for moping, it was hard to take any of it seriously.
I don't see why the reboot needs to be an origin story, if that's what's being planned. It's a well known story anyway, and we had it less than a decade ago, so do a Hulk - quick recap over the credits and bang. And get Brian Bendis to do the script; UItimate Spiderman is amazing.
Posted on Thursday January 14, 2010, 09:29
I think introduce Gwen first in any reboot and kill her off in a horrible shock ending.
I was really hoping for Bruce Campbell to show up as Mysterio in Raimi's series though. Damn.
I'd love to see more of Spider-Man's old-school visually interesting villains in any future films such as Rhino, Mysterio, Kraven, Lizard, Vulture and Shocker in some for or another.
Hell, you could have Kraven hunting all the animal themed villains (inc Doc Ock) and Spidey himself.
Posted on Thursday January 14, 2010, 17:53
I have no problems with the cast from the current trilogy, though I agree that MJ became overly drippy and irksome by film 3. The fault lies solely with the script-writers for the female characters as highlighted in Helen's article. And while we're talking about the writers, what was all that crap about Peter losing his powers because he was suppressing his love for MJ? Sheez. Credit where its due though - they did a decent job accommodating all those baddies and story threads in 3; it wasn't their fault that the studio rail-roaded Raimi on Venom. There would've been no "who should be in 4?" debate either!!
No idea who to suggest for the reboot since I don't know enough about the current generation of young actors. Isla Fisher's a bit firey and a natural red head - too old though?!
Posted on Friday January 15, 2010, 13:00
If they are going for the teen audience I reckon Emma Roberts (Julia Roberts niece). She is a natural redhead, very very American and stunningly beautiful. And she around 18 - 19. Isla fisher wouldn't have been too bad had they been aiming for an older lead
Posted on Wednesday August 31, 2011, 05:51
I would have to agree.