When it comes to the portrayal of romance in the MCU, Spider-Man has never appeared on screen without a concrete or possible love interest by his side. Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland have portrayed Peter Parker in live-action films. Meanwhile, Kirsten Dunst, Emma Stone, and Zendaya have represented Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, and MJ. Even though these individuals provided Peter’s story with the usual superhero romance, their writing was shallow and cliché.
The Hopeless Romantic Peter Parker
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, featuring Tobey Maguire as the eponymous character, was released in 2002. In 2012, the Spider-Man franchise was revived with The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield as the web-slinging superhero. With the release of 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tom Holland donned the spider suit for the first time in a solo MCU outing, followed by 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home and 2021’s No Way Home. Spider-Man actor Tom Holland is expected to remain in the MCU in the future.
Peter Parker’s love relationship has been reduced to a one-dimensional narrative device in every one of the seven current Spider-Man films. Peter’s struggle to confess his feelings for a girl is a recurring theme in most of these films, and it serves as a central storyline aspect. The MCU has a significant problem on its hands because of the prevalence of this cliché in film and television, coupled with the acute shortage of well-developed female characters in Spider-Man movies.
A clumsy high school student is failing to express his thoughts to the girl of his dreams damages both Peter and those who love him. Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy features Mary Jane as the standard nice, clever, and attractive girl that everyone, even a shy and ordinary Peter, tries to impress.’ MJ’s edginess and attempts to be relatable are overdone in the MCU’s version of her. When it comes to character traits and relationship arcs, the Spider-Man series’ primary characters are effectively reduced to cliches because of their lack of individuality.
The Problematic Plot Devices
They have diverse personalities, but neither Mary Jane nor Zendaya’s character grows beyond Peter’s romantic interest in either one of them. Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy, Mary Jane, only serves as Peter’s damsel in distress. Gwen’s plotline in The Amazing Spider-Man movie takes a more good turn as her career at Oscorp and anticipation of a relocation abroad are the focus. She’s a key player in the battles against Lizard and the Green Goblin, too.
When Gwen is wiped off at the ending of TASM 2 to work as a sorrow source for Peter, her enhanced setup goes to waste. This is an example of the sexist media cliche known as “fridging.” Spider-Man has a problem with female characters in general, as all three of Peter’s key love interests in the movies are nothing but plot devices to support Peter’s development. Even Aunt May doesn’t justify her presence outside of Peter’s.
Given the large cast of Spider-Man’s third MCU outing, No Way Home, which opens in just a few weeks, it’s unlikely that the film’s persistent love interest issue will be resolved. There are too many returning villains and the presence of Doctor Strange to give Zendaya’s character, MJ, much of a chance to shine.
Future Spider-Man films in the MCU should adopt a different approach to explore Peter’s character and relationship with his love interests. In the comics, Spider-Man’s love interest Silk, Mockingbird, or Black Cat have all been elevated to superhuman status at various periods in time. Holland’s Peter and Zendaya’s MJ might continue their love story with an extended storyline for the latter’s arc.