Zendaya In Challengers Is Doing Something Truly Incredible

By Shanna Mathews-Mendez | Updated

Challengers, in theaters now, is a surprisingly good movie for one centered around a sport that is not all that exciting for a lot of people. The film’s success is likely due to many of the director’s choices as well as the acting of Zendaya, along with her two “challengers,” Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor. 

Zendaya Captured Our Hearts In Spider-Man

Zendaya Spider-Man Tom Holland

Zendaya rose to fame through Disney shows, which were the complete opposite of her lead role in Challengers, from a very young age. But it wasn’t until Tom Holland’s Spider-Man that Zendaya really hit the radar of most film fans. Zendaya had a small part in that first film, Spider-Man: Homecoming, with fans only learning her name, MJ (Michelle Jones, and not Mary Jane), as credits were set to roll. 

But she took on a larger role in Spider-Man: Far From Home, and an even more prominent position in Peter’s heart, and the hearts of fans, in the third installment, Spider-Man: No Way Home. Along the way, she began taking on more serious characters, like that of Rue Bennet in Max’s Euphoria and John David Washington’s love interest in Malcolm & Marie

Challengers Is A Very Different Type Of Role

Still, in each of these films, Zendaya remains relatively true to form. She is at times brutally honest, often mysterious, and frequently torn and emotional. But, as far as I know, we haven’t seen Zendaya embody a character like the one in Challengers. She’s ruthless, calculating, and cut-throat. She will meet her ends no matter what. 

The Drive To Succeed

Zendaya’s character, Tashi, starts Challengers as a high school senior winning sponsorships from Adidas for her tennis prowess. She is described as a game-changer for the sport. At the same time, two young men, best friends, teammates, and opponents, Art and Patrick, are also in the tennis circuit, and they happen to catch Tashi at her best. 

Everyone Loves Zendaya

Who wouldn’t fall in love with Zendaya is a central question in Challengers, and it drives the entire plot. Both men fall for Tashi, and she chooses Patrick. Fast-forward a year, Tashi suffers a career-ending injury and breaks up with Patrick. Fast-forward another 10 years, and now Tashi is married to Art, and they have a child. 

Zendaya Is Evil

Tashi had decided to coach Art to fame, which he has achieved, and Patrick has become a scrambling nobody constantly reaching for wins at the bottom of the tennis barrel. As we bounce back and forth through time, to the younger years of these young hopefuls and to the drama that is becoming increasingly heightened today, we understand that Tashi has been doing quite a bit of manipulating, which yes, makes Zendaya the villain of Challengers, marking a career milestone for the star. 

A Delightful Twist From Her Usual Roles

We get the sense that all she cares about, really, is tennis. If she can’t play it, she will coach the best, and if her husband can’t be the best, she really has no use for him. She positions herself in the lives of both men across the years to meet her goals, much like a tennis ball, but she is also the only one with the metaphorical racket. She is harsh and brutal as she takes her swings. 

A Slow, Intense Story

I enjoyed watching Zendaya in Challengers. The movie is slow at times and then frenetic at others, with close-ups of faces, bodies, dripping sweat, and lips meeting. Director Luca Guadagnino said he wanted this film to be, at its heart, about relationships, and that theme comes through incredibly well. The love triangle is a mess of relationships, and the game of tennis also has its own relationship with each character.

Zendaya Makes Challengers Worth Watching


Powered by Zendya’s performance, Rotten Tomatoes has Challengers at 89 percent right now, and for good reason. I think it could lose 20 minutes from the long two hours, and we wouldn’t miss anything.  

If you’re looking for an interesting film to watch, go see Challengers while it’s still in theaters. I definitely think it’s meant for the big screen.