Batman’s black armor will not be Ben Affleck’s first superhero costume. You already know he played the blind Daredevil in 2003. But he also wore another, even more iconic, superhero outfit: Superman’s. In 2006, after a string of cinematic missteps (Gigli, Jersey Girl, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas), Affleck starred in Hollywoodland, a biopic about the mystery behind the suicide of George Reeves, who played the Man of Steel in the fifties TV series Adventures of Superman. While Affleck briefly wears the tights, he also dons Reeves’s depressed outlook on playing the superhero — in one scene, he burns his Superman costume to “celebrate” Adventures of Superman’s cancellation in 1958. But that cape. Those boots. That single curl. Did he pull it off? Here’s a compilation of what the critics had to say.
Ben Affleck can act!
* “There are degrees of torture, grief, and self-pity in Affleck’s performance. But the real surprise is his comfort with looking like a star. He is classic-Hollywood handsome (for once that jaw line has a purpose), and there is real crackle between him and [Diane] Lane. She looks seductive, and he seems seduced. But the movie is up to too much — and yet not nearly enough — to give either star room to breathe.” — Wesley Morris, Boston.com
* “It’s worth seeing for Affleck alone, deftly communicating the distance between the put-on cardboard debonairness of this hunk-about-town and the gnawing uncertainties beneath his Superman outfit.” — Trevor Johnston, Time Out
* “Suavely self-satisfied Ben Affleck (natural candidate to star in Kevin Smith’s oft announced, never made Superman Lives) is typecast as the unfortunate Reeves…Props then to Affleck. Coulter contrived a neat behavioral trick by inducing his star to play a comparably big-jawed bad actor. Surrounded as he is by canny professionals—Lane, Hoskins, Smith, and Jeffrey DeMunn as an unctuous glad-handing agent—it’s an unexpectedly touching performance.” — J. Hoberman, Village Voice
* “Ben Affleck is almost too perfect a choice to play an affable, good-looking actor who falls on hard times — although Reeves never attained the highs or the lows Affleck has already experienced. After a series of horrendous flops (“Gigli,” “Jersey Girl,” “Paycheck,” “Surviving Christmas”), Affleck reminds us why he became a star in the first place, with a smooth but sympathetic portrayal of an actor whose “greatest” moments came while wearing a glorified Halloween costume.” — Richard Roeper, Richard Roeper & the Movies
* “The irony is that Affleck’s battering at the hands of fame has prepped him beautifully to play Reeves. He knows this character from the inside: the surface charm, the hidden vulnerability, the ache of watching a career become a joke and being helpless to stop it. Affleck beefed up twenty pounds to fill Reeves’ tights, but it’s the pain behind his eyes that makes this an award-caliber performance. Watch his fear and shame when the flying rig used to hoist Superman drops him to the ground. Or catch the moment when Reeves attends a preview of From Here to Eternity, the Oscar-winning 1953 film he hopes might lift him out of the kiddie-TV ghetto, and the audience laughs at the sight of him. Or the weariness with which he walks up the stairs on the final night of his life. This is feeling, nuanced work from an actor some of us had prematurely written off. In his generous spirit toward a forgotten icon, Affleck turns the death-obsessed Hollywoodland into, of all things, a film about resurrection.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
* “Affleck acquits himself after a spate of roles that have been lackluster at best (2004’s Surviving Christmas) and at worst downright embarrassing (2003’s Gigli). He has a talent for singing melancholy songs in Spanish and achieves the appropriate self-deprecating tone toward Reeves’ Superman persona.” — Claudia Puig, USA Today
* “Meanwhile, Affleck gives his best performance in years as Reeves, and the material is fascinating, as most star bios tend to be.” — Stephen Hunter, The Washington Post
* “Affleck, an actor who has had his share of ups downs duds and disappointments in Hollywood, delivers one of his most charming and fully realized performances to date even if his spot-on recreation of Reeves’ speech pattern is a bit distracting.” — Scott Huver, Hollywood.com
Ben Affleck can’t act!
* “Ben Affleck has always had the decency to look embarrassed at being unqualified for his job, but it’s sad that he doesn’t even have the histrionic resources to be convincing as a washed-up fifties B-movie actor.” — David Edelstein, New York Magazine