A few nights ago I was sitting down a hot cup of tea and lovely slice of homemade chocolate cake with some friends. We were talking about some of the movies we had all seen this last summer: Dunkirk, Wonder Woman, The Big Sick, and Spider Man: Homecoming. As we pivoted to talking about the action-packed superhero movies, I expressed one of things that grinds my gears about Spider Man: Homecoming, the role of all the women as love interests for the male protagonist.
My roommates and I are all avid Harry Potter fans, and one of the things about the series that we all love is how the women are presented in this series. Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley (book only): they’re all strong, complex characters with believable personalities and two of these women are never considered to be love interests for our hero, Harry. These women are integral to the story and as powerful and capable as their male counterparts. This series doesn’t limit its demographic to a single gender. It’s something for all of us to enjoy.
On the other hand, we have series like The Hunger Games, which I would consider to be targeted towards a female audience. It’s not because the protagonist is a young woman. Instead, it’s because her romantic life dictates a majority of the story and that the two main males essentially exist to only serve as her love interests. Like how in much of old media women were mostly there to be the hero’s lovers, now The Hunger Games is doing the same thing to these men. Maybe this is some commentary on how women can be objectified in the action/adventure genre, but I don’t think this series is clever enough for that.
Now we have Spider Man: Homecoming, the newest addition to the MCU. I actually enjoyed the movie: the effects were nice, Tom Holland did a great job, and it brought that same thrill and excitement that I felt when watching Toby McGuire don the spidey suit back in 2000. Initially, I didn’t have a huge problem with the role of the women in this movie because while Liz was the obvious love interest for Peter, Michelle was just his quirky friend. That was, until the end of the movie when Liz moves away and Michelle reveals that her friends often refer to her as MJ. Is it THE MJ? I hope not, but who else can it be? That one revelation is what prevented me from enjoying the movie in its entirety. For me, it ultimately broke the non-gendered quality of the film as the only other prominent female character, other than Aunt May, may now be in the running to win Peter’s heart. There’s value in portraying Michelle as just a friend of Peter and nothing more than that; if anything it’s realistic. Additionally, it can portray mutual respect between a man and a woman without the need for either to exist solely to be the love interest.
I won’t start hating Homecoming because of this. However, in the sequels that are to come, I at least hope that we will get to see more capable women interact with Peter and maybe even help stop a baddie or two. I’m still hoping that one Asian girl on the decathalon team will turn out to be a certain Korean web-slinger.