The difference between the old and new May comes down to one word, at least in Marvel's mind: sexy.
It's clear the writers of the film want us to know that Aunt May is sexy now. In nearly every scene that Tomei has in Spider-Man, someone is talking about how hot she is. Aunt May gets hit on from everyone Tony Stark to waiters at restaurants.
At a press conference last month, Tomei (very politely) implied that the filmmakers basically told her to sex it up in her portrayal of the character.
Now, in a new interview with Variety, Tomei elaborates on this pressure — and why it was a confusing for her that everyone was fixating on this one quality.
"I don't know if Marvel said it," said Tomei when asked if she was really pitched a "sexy" Aunt May. "My agents said it to me."
Tomei went on to say,
I think they were trying to disarm me, because how would they know if I'd seen the comics. And then when I saw the parasol and the high-Victorian collar, I was like, 'Is she just loony?' I think they were trying to pre-empt my terror, which didn't work, because I was like, 'Why do they keep saying that?' It's not like that one quality is a character. I don't even know what that means in the scheme of things. It's confusing, because you're an aunt.
It's a fair point. There's a lot more to Tomei's Aunt May than sexiness, even if the characters around her don't know it. She's quirky, funny, and plays something of a best friend role for Peter — encouraging him to go to parties, teaching him how to dance when he asks out his crush, and looking how to tie a tie on YouTube for him.
And, Tomei tells Variety, there was even a short-lived plan to get Aunt May in on the action scenes of Spider-Man, which she hopes will still be coming in future films.
We did talk a lot, [the director] Jon Watts and I, about Spider-Man being a community hero. Maybe May was a community organizer or invested in the neighborhood, getting his values from that. At one point, we talked about her rescuing a kid. It never made it to filming, but it's all there in the soup.
I personally greatly look forward to the Aunt May action-movie spinoff, where she is so much more than just sexy.