Andrew Garfield was too handsome to be a superhero. This has never been a problem for any actor in the history of Hollywood, but it ended up being one of several factors that doomed the short-lived Amazing Spider-Man franchise. Garfield’s performances in those movies were one of the few things that made them bearable, but the fact that he was obviously too old and attractive to be a high-school loser just highlighted how many poor decisions went into Sony’s attempts to reboot the wall-crawler before giving him back to Marvel. Yet, for all the ignominy attached to Amazing Spider-Man 2 and the franchise’s almost instant death, Garfield could not have possibly asked for a better career boost.
His first film to release after ASM2 was Ramin Bahrani’s exquisite financial crash drama 99 Homes, in which he turned in his best performance up to that point. Matching a towering Michael Shannon in every scene, Garfield fully capitalised on the huge amount of promise he had shown in The Social Network and acclaimed British dramas like Red Riding in his pre-Spider Man years. 99 Homes might have been seen by an incalculably smaller audience than ASM (if you haven’t watched it, correct that as soon as you can), but it was the sort of festival darling that qualified him for his sensational 2016.
That year, Andrew Garfield Having A Bad Time In Japan became a genre of its own as he won an Oscar nomination for brutally effective war drama Hacksaw Ridge and starred for the man himself, Martin Scorsese, in the brilliantly soulful Silence. Had Amazing Spider-Man continued as planned (with two more main series movies and a litany of spinoffs), there’s no way that Garfield would have had the time to shoot both of these films, either of which will probably have greater longevity in the minds of moviegoers than a subpar Marvel adventure.
In 99 Homes, Hacksaw Ridge and Silence, there’s an excited energy to Garfield’s performances which suggests a relief that he’d made it back into a more involved and creative type of film. Even Hacksaw Ridge, the most conventional movie of the trio, has a power and originality that is sorely lacking in most generic blockbusters, unabashedly gory and religious. 99 Homes is a deeply moving update of classic morality plays and Silence remains one of the most sincere and excoriating explorations of spirituality in mainstream Western cinema.
While 2017 might have been less interesting for Garfield cinematically (his only release was the forgettable Breathe), he further embraced his freedom from the franchise machine by setting the theatrical world on fire with his star performance in Angels in America. Universally acclaimed, he helped turn the revival of Tony Kushner’s play into one of the cultural events of the year and was handsomely rewarded with an Olivier nomination and a Tony Award win. What might have looked like stunt casting back in 2014 was instead met with rapturous excitement as Garfield’s prestige continued to soar.
With the release next week of Under the Silver Lake, David Robert Mitchell’s divisive yet fascinating neo-noir, Garfield has continued to show a willingness to take risks. One of very few English-language films to premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, it has been both derided and exalted, and its mid-March UK release date is evidence of a film too off-the-wall for awards season, making it all the more exciting a prospect. It’s perhaps here that the positives of the end of the Amazing Spider-Man series are most apparent.
Garfield got the best of both worlds, in a way. Though his arachnid capers were not well-liked, they did make him a household name, and after they came to their mercifully early end he had his pick of roles. Financially, I’m sure he has nothing to worry about, so he can stick to the indie scene as long as he likes, while his name holds enough Hollywood cachet and brand recognition that his mere presence is surely a boost to the hopes of weird films getting made on a higher budget than they would otherwise receive.
Another actor who has absolutely nailed his post-franchise career so far is Robert Pattinson, whose post-Twilight CV is a murderer’s row of magnificent directors (Cronenberg, Denis, Gray, and Guerra to name but a few) and truly original films. Though multiplex-friendly franchises might be necessary to allow young actors the opportunity to eventually make the sort of films that make critics and awards bodies giddy, someone with the talent and good sense of Andrew Garfield can be sure that they’ll never miss the days of spandex and superpowers. Moving from blockbusters to indies is as close as an actor who isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio or The Rock can come in modern Hollywood to old-school movie stardom, drawing new audiences into highbrow films on name alone and expanding the possibilities for both emerging and established auteurs.