Critics are less enthused about “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” than they were about 2012’s reboot of the comic-book franchise. The Chicago Tribune review headline declaring the sequel as “just adequate, too long” pretty much nails it. What is amazing, however, is the praise being heaped upon the more intimate moments shared by the cast members over the web-slinging action sequences. Much of that is due to the edgy yet playful performance by Andrew Garfield in the title role, perceived by many as an upgrade over earnestly boyish Tobey Maguire, Hollywood’s original Spider-Man. Rogerebert.com’s Christy Lemire extols Garfield’s “innate rebelliousness” and notes how he has grown into “the cheeky, wisecracking superhero of Marvel Comic lore … Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.”
Signature line: “Five, four, three, two, one… Ready or not, here I come.” – As Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012)
Career peaks: Born 30 years ago in Los Angeles and raised in England, this talented offspring of a British mom and an American father maintains a dual citizenship. He appeared in a youth theater production of “Bugsy Malone” at 12, but didn’t truly get bitten by the acting bug until he was 16. After graduating from the University of London’s Central School of Speech and Drama in 2004, he won an outstanding newcomer award for his work with Manchester’s Royal Theatre Exchange before making the leap to British TV.
His career went into high gear after a small part as a Southerner during the Great Depression in two episodes of the cult sci-fi series “Doctor Who” in 2007. That same year, he also found himself holding his own opposite Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise and Robert Redford on the big screen as an American college student in 2007’s little-seen “Lions for Lambs” and displayed his range in the British TV drama “Boy A” as an accused killer just released from prison. He later took supporting roles in such features as 2008’s “The Other Boleyn Girl” and Terry Gilliam’s 2009 release “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”
His breakout arrived in 2010, with major parts in two standout film dramas: As a boarding-school student in the dystopian tale “Never Let Me Go,” and as Eduardo Saverin, one of the founders of Facebook and the vulnerable moral center of “The Social Network.” That same year, he was announced as the new Spider-Man.
“He is one of these young people who have this gift,” explains his “Never Let Me Go” director Mark Romanek. “The degree to which they apply themselves and the professionalism and the deep thought they put into their work is amazing.”
Biggest assets: Unlike established stars who have stepped into a superhero suit – think Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine — Garfield is still in the process of being discovered by mainstream moviegoers, allowing for a welcome degree of mystery that benefits his transformation into his characters. The actor, who has been compared to the young Anthony Perkins, puts his bi-cultural background to good use, combining gangly boy-next-door appeal with intelligence and rueful humor. His humble attitude in interviews also doesn’t hurt. The lifelong Spidey fan has said about winning the part of his favorite superhero, “I was excited like a child is excited,” while vowing to represent “kids who feel stronger on the inside than they look on the outside.”
Awards attention: He was nominated for a supporting-actor Tony Award for his Broadway debut opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in the 2012 revival of “Death of a Salesman.” He also earned a supporting-actor Golden Globe nod for his performance in “The Social Network.”
Biggest misfires: With just seven feature films under his belt so far, Garfield has two flops as part of the ensembles for success d’estime “Never Let Me Go” ($2 million domestic) and “Lions for Lambs” ($15 million). If anyone is to blame for that one, it’s director and co-star Redford.
Biggest problem: Garfield’s celebrityhood is still in its infancy and most ticket buyers are primarily familiar with him from his Spidey incarnation. That sort of blockbuster exposure can pay off but it often leads to typecasting. Maguire, his predecessor in the comic-book role, has struggled, getting cut out of “Life of Pi” and narrating “The Great Gatsby.” He has finally lined up his first high-profile film lead post-Spider-Man even though his reign as the superhero ended in 2007: He’s American chess champ Bobby Fischer opposite Liev Schreiber’s Russian master Boris Spassky in Edward Zwick’s upcoming “Pawn Sacrifice.“
Gossip fodder: Garfield dated Shannon Woodward of TV’s “Raising Hope” from 2008 to 2011. But these days, he is half of Hollywood’s tabloid-designated cutest couple with his feisty “Spider-Man” co-star Emma Stone. Not that they themselves have ever confirmed their romantic status. The actor grew testy on a London red carpet during the premiere for “Spidey 2,” telling off a reporter: “My personal life is not public property.” Stone set off a firebomb of online buzz when she raved about Garfield to “Good Morning America”: “He’s obviously one of the greatest actors I think we have alive today and he’s also just a remarkable human being. I love him very much.” But just as the real-life connection between Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson lent spark to the “Twilight” films, Garfield and Stone’s adorableness as a couple pays off onscreen as well. Ray Pride of New City Film spoke for many critics as he noted, “The melting chemistry between Stone and Garfield is awe-inspiring.”
Career advice: Even minus that messy mushroom cloud of hair, the recently shorn Garfield clearly has the goods to headline a dramatic movie. His hosting job this past weekend on “Saturday Night Live” (he did a killer Justin Timberlake impression), along with his delightful bantering with Stone, reveals a knack for comedy. It is also a plus that he has maintained an admirable perspective on fame vs. constantly improving his craft: “I hope I never blow up. I hope that I have to audition for every single job I want. I hope that I’m always struggling, really. You develop when you’re struggling. When you’re struggling, you get stronger.”
Next step: With “The Amazing Spider-Man 3” in the pipeline, Garfield is doing the right thing by taking more roles that emphasize his sensitive male persona and hooking up with notable filmmakers. First, he plays a contractor who falls into foreclosure hell opposite Michael Shannon in an indie drama directed by Ramin Bahrani (“At Any Price”). But it will likely be his next effort that will take him to the next level as the lead of Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating passion project, “Silence.” The mainly Japanese-language period piece based on Shusaku Endo’s novel has him playing a Portuguese Jesuit missionary in 17th-century Japan who faces persecution. Obviously, Scorsese was looking for an acting presence that audiences could connect to – why not their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?