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The strangely logical choice of Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man

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In the end, the most watched piece of film casting in recent memory went to the actor whom few were watching.

Andrew Garfield, a veteran of some very acclaimed but very little-seen films, bested a group of more intuitive choices to land the role of a teenage Peter Parker-Spider Man, Sony announced Thursday, in its upcoming reboot of the mega-franchise made famous by director Sam Raimi and actor Tobey Maguire.

The 26-year-old Garfield beat the fan favorite (“Percy Jackson and the Olympian’s” Logan Lerman), the emerging action star (“Terminator Salvation’s” Anton Yelchin), Hollywood’s dweeb du jour (“Kick-Ass’s” Aaron Johnson) and others.

The selection of the dark horse Garfield is certainly a triumph for director Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) who has a sensibility that favors the emo and the introspective — the very skills Garfield brings. Webb was able to sell Sony on Garfield’s traits even though studios typically prefer bigger names for their franchise pictures. (It clearly helped that Sony already liked Garfield in one of its big fall movies, “The Social Network.” And as a relative unknown, Garfield’s presumably lower price tag couldn’t have hurt either.)

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The blogopshere went into overdrive even faster than usual debating the wisdom of the move, which we suppose is what a studio gets when it tries to reboot a franchise that most people still remember pretty clearly. If you’re going to go through the trouble of bringing all this back, fans seemed to say, give us an actor that will make us forget the guy who played him before.

There’s no question Garfield is a good performer who can bring a subtle sensitivity to the role — that was clear in his “Red Riding” and “Boy A,” and it will be evident in the fall movies “Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network,” both of which look like strong awards contenders. (This may be the first time an actor would be considered in performance categories for two movies while also preparing to shoot one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises.)

But subtle sensitivity is beside the point for some skeptics, who have, among other things, raised concerns about Garfield’s age. A 26-year-old playing a teenager, as Garfield will here, poses not simply a cosmetic issue but an acting one. No matter how young someone looks, an actor in his mid- to late 20s may simply have too much life experience to persuade an audience that he is on the cusp of adulthood.

And then there’s the question about whether Garfield can, as the expression goes in Hollywood, fill the suit. Few doubt that the actor will bring the vulnerability to the Peter Parker part of the role. But the question is whether he can bring the brio and swagger to the Spider-Man side. Good actors can star in all kinds of films, but superheroes demand a different quality: presence.

So, at least, goes the argument from the likes of Team Lerman and Team Yelchin. But it’s hard not to feel that the sentiment is a little misplaced. Actors grow into parts all the time (especially actors who’ve not yet been given a chance to show their skills). The role makes the actor as much as the actor makes the role.

When he was cast in the original “Spider-Man,” after all, Maguire himself was mainly an art-house actor known for roles in upscale dramas such as “The Ice Storm” and “Wonder Boys.” The acting chops he developed in those sorts of movies served him well in “Spider-Man.” Garfield may have a big suit to fill, but there’s reason to believe that his art-house background will help him to crawl up the same walls.

“There’s a tremendous depth, vulnerability and tenderness, but there’s an edge to him too,” said Fox Searchlight production president Claudia Lewis about Garfield, whom she worked with on “Never Let Me Go.” “He brings a different kind of masculinity.”

-- Steven Zeitchik
http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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