The architects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe took care to make their version of Spider-Man much younger than his wall-crawling predecessors, keeping him an awkward teenager up through his fifth appearance in the franchise, this weekend's Spider-Man: Far From Home. The new approach extended to Peter Parker's world in Queens, including an Aunt May who, as played by Marisa Tomei, is much younger than any previous iteration. And thanks to her relative youth, it feels both natural and very earned that when, at the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming, May learns the truth, she drops an F-bomb (that is, conveniently, interrupted by the movie's credits).
With this great moment, the MCU cements Tomei's version of Aunt May as the best film version of the iconic Spidey character, and she remains great in Far From Home.
**Spoiler Warning: There are some spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home below**
Even before Aunt May learns Peter's secret, she's still more interesting than past Aunt Mays have been — no disrespect to Rosemary Harris or Sally Field, who played May in the Sam Raimi originals and two Amazing movies, respectively. Because Tomei is younger, she feels more immediately relevant to Peter's plot. There are lots of incredible and moving stories to be told about older and elderly characters, but it's a little tricky to make those stories line up with Peter's high school and superhero antics. There's only a one-generation gap between May and Peter, rather than the two generations that older Mays imply.
Because Aunt May is a little younger than normal, she's also a little hipper. She's not necessarily "cool" to Peter, a teenager, but she can relate to his life better and she knows a little of the lingo. She gets it, and can more easily empathize with Peter, giving him sage advice when he needs it and giving him a little s**t when he needs that, too.
May can also flirt with Tony Stark (and, later, have a fling with Happy Hogan). While this is a hoot, and it makes Peter awfully uncomfortable, this is really a consequence of the way the MCU handled Uncle Ben — or rather, how it didn't handle him. Perhaps because Tom Holland's Spider-Man made his debut inside of another movie, and because audiences had already seen two Spidey origin stories in the past decade or so, the MCU skips past the spider bite and Ben's death. We never see him in the flesh, and we never hear him give his "with great power comes great responsibility" speech.
While all of that is still assumed to have happened offscreen, this means that the MCU's Peter — and, importantly, Aunt May — are not as innately tied to Ben and his death. Aunt May is technically a widow, but the MCU introduces her much later in the grieving process, allowing for a May with more agency and independence. She's not just mourning her late husband and worrying over Peter. Well, at least not just worrying over Peter.
Homecoming ending with May learning Peter's secret meant that future MCU Spidey movies wouldn't have to retread the same plots that older movies had done. It would not have been especially exciting to see Peter tiptoe around his aunt again, which always makes Aunt May feel like a drag, which isn't fair to the character. Letting May know the secret early — and letting her embrace it, as seen in Far From Home — puts her on equal footing with Peter. (Lily Tomlin's Aunt May in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was also great for this reason, as she was practically Spider-Man's sassy Alfred.)
Infinity War and Endgame largely skip over how May adjusted to learning Peter's superhero identity, and it's unclear how much the pair's five-year disappearance in "The Blip" changed things, but in Far From Home she's Spider-Man's No. 1 cheerleader. She has Spider-Man make guest appearances at her charity event, telling Peter that he needs to be a little more charismatic out there while he's at it. She shoves his Spider-Man costume into Peter's luggage before he goes to Europe because she thinks he might want and need it. That alone is a far cry from past Aunt Mays. She worries for Peter, as overheard in her check-in calls with Happy Hogan, but she's actively encouraging Peter to be a superhero. Use that Peter-Tingle, Spidey!
Now that the whole world knows Peter's secret, things are going to change quite a bit for Aunt May. But if the MCU's version of Aunt May has shown us anything, it's that May is game for anything, and that she'll always be proudly on Peter's side.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.