Come July 3, 2012, Andrew Garfield will be forever known as either the Amazing Spider-Man or the sap who ruined a perfectly good reboot.
Can the British actor, who previously appeared in ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Never Let Me Go,’ spin a web, any size, that catches thieves, just like flies? And what about Henry Cavill, another relative unknown tapped to play the lead in ‘Man of Steel’ hitting theaters in 2013?
Sometimes looking into an actor’s past can reveal plenty about their future prospects. And, in the case of those cast in superhero franchises, there’s a lot riding on just how heroic they can appear on screen.
So let’s recall how other actors prepared for their super close-ups and what happened once they tugged on those unforgiving tights — or, in the case of George Clooney, poured themselves into an uncomfortable cod piece.
Exhibit 1: Michael Keaton in ‘Batman’ (1989)
The Evidence: He snarled up a storm in ‘Johnny Dangerously’ and scared Winona Ryder three fourths to death in ‘Beetlejuice.’ He also showed some serious dramatic chops in ‘Clean and Sober.’
The Worry: Bruce Wayne is … Mr. Mom? A receding hairline and slip of a frame hardly pass Superhero 101. Bat fanatics thought Jack Nicholson’s Joker was the silver lining to this otherwise troubling casting call.
The Verdict: Pow! Bam! Zoom! Keaton defied conventional wisdom to make ‘Batman’ a sensation even with those awful Prince tunes. Turns out he could do dark and foreboding when given the chance, and his pursed lips looked just right beneath that hard rubber cowl. Bonus points for ditching the franchise before Robin entered the equation.
Exhibit 2: Robert Downey, Jr. in ‘Iron Man’
The Evidence: Snared an Oscar nomination for ‘Chaplin’ but wasted much of his youth on drugs and dismissible film roles.
The Worry: Did you see ‘Back to School?’ Downey, Jr.’s Derek Lutz couldn’t beat up a sorority girl, let alone a supervillain.
The Verdict: Handsome, edgy and super believable as a genius who saves himself by forging a suit out of metal scraps. A near perfect marriage of actor and material.
Exhibit 3: George Clooney in ‘Batman and Robin’
The Evidence: Clooney proved he could do complicated with his turn as Dr. Ross on television’s ‘ER.’ He later made the jump to the big screen, flashing Tarantino-esque cool in ‘From Dusk Til Dawn’ when his screen bro (Quentin Tarantino himself) became a vampire’s snack.
The Worry: You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have Clooney’s most regrettable role in ‘The Facts of Life.’ Let’s not forget his middling turn in ‘One Fine Day.’
The Verdict: Holy franchise ender! Clooney doesn’t deserve all the blame for the calamitous ‘Batman and Robin,’ but he hardly distinguished himself in his first super effort. It took nearly a decade for fans to forgive this bat-travesty and allow the mighty Christopher Nolan to bring Bruce Wayne back with ‘Batman Begins.’
Exhibit 4: Tobey Maguire in ‘Spider-Man’
The Evidence: ‘Wonder Boys’ showcased Maguire’s sensitive side. So did ‘Pleasantville.’ And ‘The Cider House Rules.’ Heck, he could do Peter Parker-style sensitivity in his sleep.
The Worry: Spider-Man isn’t the stockiest superhero, but a stiff wind would give Maguire trouble.
The Verdict: More movie magic. The soulful Maguire nailed his dweeby high school moments, and the all-purpose Spidey mask helped distract us from that cherubic face. It helps that he got paired with the height-challenged Kirsten Dunst, with whom he shared one of the best screen kisses of all time.
Exhibit 5: Halle Berry in ‘Catwoman’
The Evidence: She overcame a lousy wig to play Storm in ‘X-Men’ and flaunted her curves in ‘The Flintstones.’ Oh, and she had just won a Best Actress Oscar for ‘Monster’s Ball.’
The Worry: Some pretty questionable film choices including ‘B*A*P*S’ and ‘Swordfish,’ even if the latter gave us the chance to ogle her, ahem, Golden Globes.
The Verdict: Me-ouch! Berry sure looked purty, but every other element of this neo-S&M dud went awry. She could have sauntered through the film nekkid and we’d still throw tomatoes at the screen.
Exhibit 6: Ryan Reynolds in ‘Green Lantern’
The Evidence: He looks like a superhero sans shirt. He’s even been a superhero of sorts twice already — as Deadpool in ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ and in ‘Blade: Trinity.’ Plus, he’s quick with a one-liner and wooed Scarlett Johansson off-screen. That’s a superpower 99.9 percent of men wish they had.
The Worry: Is Reynolds too pretty to be a rough and tumble superhero?
The Verdict: Thud! ‘Green Lantern’ proved the biggest disappointment of last summer’s super flock of movies. Reynolds looked lost amidst all those ones and zeroes zipping around the screen, and bland love interest Blake Lively couldn’t help.
Exhibit 7: Chris Evans in ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’
The Evidence: Holy coincidence! Evans also played a superhero long before tugging on Captain America’s tights. In fact, even those who found the two ‘Fantastic Four’ films a bore, and that’s most of us, cheered Evans’ glib turn as the Human Torch. If that resume chip wasn’t enough, Evans also played a man with supernatural powers in ‘Push,’ a clunker co-starring Dakota Fanning.
The Worry: With apologies to Johnny Storm, the Human Torch is no Captain America. Ol’ Cap is an icon, a red, white and blue example of American pride. Those are pretty big boots to fill.
The Verdict: Let’s Salute Capt. Evans! ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ got the rah-rah spirit of the Allied powers just right, even if the film’s ending revealed the whole product was primarily a plug for ‘The Avengers.’
Exhibit 8: Christopher Reeve in ‘Superman’
The Evidence: Slim, at best. Reeve’s pre-‘Superman’ work consisted of three TV appearances and a small role in the 1978 film ‘Gray Lady Down.’
The Worry: Who is Christopher Reeve, and why does he think he can share the screen with the likes of Gene Hackman? Or Valerie Perrine, for that matter?
The Verdict: Super, indeed. Reeve proved the ideal fit for The Man of Steel, capturing the character’s innate goodness while proving you don’t need CGI muscles to look like a hero. Director Richard Donner forged the template for future superhero films, combining the silly with the serious in just the right ratio. But that wouldn’t matter if Reeve hadn’t filled out the Superman costume in such convincing fashion.