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The feminist moment you might have missed in the new Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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This has us seriously excited for the upcoming movie.      

This year is proving to be a vintage one for serving up superhero movies with a side of feminism.

First cab off the ranks is Captain Marvel, the first female-led superhero movie from Marvel starring Brie Larson as the all-powerful fighter pilot (and potential alien warrior) Carol Danvers. Four seconds of footage in the first trailer for that movie, featuring the evolution of a young Carol into a superhero, was enough to bring female viewers to tears when they watched it.

Then there’s Avengers: Endgame, coming to cinemas in April. Its predecessor featured more female superheroes than ever before, from Black Widow and Gamora to Scarlet Witch and Okoye, together onscreen for the first time facing down the evil Thanos. 

Brie Larson as Captain Marvel

When one of Thanos’ cronies locks into a duel with Scarlet Witch, she tells her to prepare to die alone. “She’s not alone,” Black Widow says, off-screen, as she storms in to fight alongside Scarlet Witch with Okoye as backup. These three little words were an immensely powerful statement of intent from Marvel, a promise that the future of their superhero franchise is resplendently female. 

Whether it’s Captain Marvel, or a forthcoming standalone Black Widow film starring Scarlett Johansson, or sequels to Black Panther that prioritise the storylines of Nakia, Shuri and Okoye, Marvel has committed to ensuring its female characters are never the only women in the room.

Which brings us to Spider-Man: Far From Home. The first trailer for this sequel in Tom Holland’s Spider-Man franchise has been released, and it promises much of the same hilarious balancing act from the first movie. 

Torn between taking up the mantle of a superhero and the usual humiliating hijinks of being a teenager in high school, Peter Parker has to learn about the responsibility of being the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Far From Home will cover much of the same ground, only this time Peter and his classmates are on a school trip to Europe. If you wanted to see Spider-Man swinging from a web through the canals of Venice, now is your chance.

It’s on one of those canals in Venice - though not in his Spider-Man disguise - that Peter Parker learns a valuable lesson in feminism, courtesy of his friend MJ (Zendaya). “You look really pretty,” Peter tells MJ, to which she replies: “And therefore I have value?”

“No no, that’s not what I -” Peter mumbles, but MJ just grins. “I’m messing with you. You look… pretty too.”

One of the highlights from Spider-Man: Homecoming was the way that movie never underestimated or undervalued its female characters. As Liz, Laura Harrier completely redefined what it means to be a love interest in a superhero movie. She never screamed in distress or languished in the background. She was the captain of Peter’s academic decathlon team, and routinely called him out for not putting his studies first.

“She’s not there for the boy,” Harrier has said. “There are a million things that are her focus: school, her career, college applications, all these things, but definitely not the boy. She’s not there just to look pretty and hang out with Peter.” 

Tom Holland is your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man

And then there was Zendaya. As the deliberately-named MJ (as in, Mary Jane, Spider-Man’s canonical girlfriend), Zendaya was smart, sardonic and a breath of fresh air. 

One of Peter’s pals on academic decathlon, she was handed the captaincy of the team when Laura had to move away after Spider-Man, you know, put her dad in prison (superhero activity really drives a wedge between a burgeoning romance). MJ was a messy, woke bookworm with a cutting oneliner for every scenario, permanently clad in a pair of Converse sneakers and scowl. 

By the end of the first movie, we could all see the writing on the wall: MJ was going to be Peter’s new love interest. But as this trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home proves, she’s not going to be anything like the damsels in distress we’ve seen so far in superhero movies. She’s not going to wait around for Peter or exist purely to drive the plot forward. She has a life, full of desires and ambitions and needs, all of her own. 

Tom Holland and Zendaya

And she’s certainly not going to let Peter get away with reductive lines of thinking when it comes to women. She might have been “messing” with him, but her comment about prettiness not being the marker of a woman’s value is a pertinent one. MJ would rather Peter value her for other reasons - her wit, her brain, her strength, her compassion, her loyalty - than the way she looks.

This kind of statement in a genre infamous for relegating its female love interests to the sidelines (just think of the criminally underused Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) in Doctor Strange) is remarkable. MJ isn’t going to let anyone underestimate her. And Spider-Man: Far From Home is going to be a better movie because of it.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas in the US and UK on July 5.

Images: Sony Pictures, Image.net 

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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