The Amazing Spider-Man 2012 ★★★½

Wow Andrew Garfield is good. Like, really good. Like, really really good. Those complaining about his casting as a teenager are, to my mind, just looking for flaws to pick at, looking for ways to attack this reboot for daring to follow so soon in the footsteps of a franchise they admired. The truth is that Garfield can easily get away with playing this age, his boyish looks perfectly well-suited to this character. And what a character it is. I'm no comics fan—truth be told, I've never read one in my life that wasn't a Beano or Dandy—but I think Spider-Man must be the best of superheroes (Matter-Eater Lad aside, obviously). The distinction of youth makes him not just some dude who reacts to strange circumstances, but a kid for whom these circumstances are really just exaggerated instances of finding himself. Compare Peter Parker to other cinematic superheroes in the last five years, and you'll notice that unlike almost all others, his powers are a plot point rather than being the plot. You could argue maybe that Iron Man is the same, but for me Favreau's film never felt like Stark's self-discovery was the driving force, instead just a cursory afterthought to add some trace of depth. Webb clearly understands the thematic implications of his character and makes admirable use of it, turning this into a story of a teenager struggling to figure out who he is rather than an arachnid humanoid who fights a giant reptile. That's not to say that it's a masterful work of character depth—it certainly isn't—but it means that it's really about something more, and damn I appreciate that. It also helps that Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy is so much more than a romantic interest. Look at the Avengers lead-ins and you'll find a certain trend. Sure, Potts is well-defined, but the respective romances of Hulk, Thor, and Cap are nothing more than boxes ticked on a checklist. Stacy, as played by Stone, feels as important to us as she does to Parker. The earlier scenes between them are played to such beautiful effect that it's nearly impossible not to go along with, Garfield astounding astute in awkward body language that's simultaneously hilarious and immensely charming. Whatever about behaving differently as Parker and as Spidey, he transforms himself entirely in the presence of Stone, and their scenes are easily the film's finest. It's through the strength of this dynamic, and on the solid foundations of the aforementioned thematic ground (extremely heavily-handled though it can be at times), that the many issues are paved over. Connors is an interesting but ultimately misused villain, the pacing and tone struggle to find themselves until almost an hour into the film, a surprising amount of the CGI is problematic and looks rushed, the script can be awfully convenient at times, there's an unintentionally hilarious Battleship-esque moment of jingoistic "AMERICA! YAY!" chest-beating, etc. Webb finds himself surrounded by the very issues that have seen many other similar outings ultimately fail, yet his strengths are just so so strong (I haven't even mentioned Sheen and Fields—perfection) that he gets away with it. In the end it's a film that understands what its character should be about, and he's one heck of a character.