"Stay away from my girl" – James Marsden
James Marsden is my choice for breakout star of 2008.
The extended version of a love triangle scene from X1.
It was the summer of 2000 and my friends and I had just walked out of a screening of the new X-Men movie. We shared a laugh at a few of the cheesier moments, gave a thumbs up for effort, and proceeded to a coffee shop where we debated the cast. We liked Ian McKellar, even though he looked too old and scrawny. Hugh Jackman was surprisingly effective. James Marsden was… who was James Marsden again?
Even if the films had stuck to the comic, Cyclops would be a pretty shitty part to land. Sure, he’s the leader, but his best known character trait is being a repressed bore and he spends 99% of the time with a visor or stupid glasses on. Out of the staple characters, he is the longest-standing but with the least amount of fans, which is just sad.
Unfortunately for Marsden, the films didn’t stick to the format and succeeded in making Cyclops even shittier. Marsden spends the entirety of the second film in captivity, after going out like a punk to Lady Deathstrike (who later gets beat by Cyclops’s competition with the ladies, Wolverine). By the beginning of the third film, he was dead, indeed, undone by his own unwavering reliability and passionate monogamy.
Somewhere during X2 I began to feel bad for Marsden, especially because X2 was great. All the characters were busy enjoying the awesomeness, bouncing off walls and cracking their adamantium knuckles, while Marsden presumably sat around rehearsing for the Notebook.
The Notebook, which I saw twice in theatres (don’t ask), didn’t fare any better for Marsden, however. After Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams enjoy a young fling, she grows up and goes to college, leaving Gosling behind to mull around, grow a beard, fight a war. McAdams eventually falls for Lon Hammond (Marsden), a “handsome, smart, funny, sophisticated, charming” rich dude who treats his lady like gold, which the film regards as boring, instead of awesome.
Sometime before her actual wedding date, McAdams sees Gosling in a newspaper; he’s disheveled and sad and has restored the house they fell in love in, which the film regards as awesome, instead of creepy. She can’t let go of the past and so she lets go of the future — Marsden, again, is left to the sidelines, rehearsing his lines for X3. Which go something like “NoooooooooOOOooo!!!!!!”
A summary of Marsden’s role in The Notebook
Marsden’s meagre contributions to the third installment of X-Men are understandable and easily forgivable. He had bigger fish to fry; former Director-X Bryan Singer had cast him in his upcoming Superman Returns film, both Singer and Marsden leaving the mutants behind in the incompetent, ham-fisted hands of Brett Ratner.
Ratner’s sins against the X-Franchise are too many to list here, but the repercussions of Marsden’s ship jumping affected the story’s mythology in significant ways. 1) Cyclops was unable to participate in the Phoenix Story, of which he is vital part, and Phoenix subsequently spent much of the film wandering without an emotional hook (or coherent plot) to latch on to. 2) Wolverine’s previously minor flirtation with Jean was promoted to the apex position of the Cyclops/Jean/Wolvie love triangle, which proves really boring and makes the film’s Wolvie *hearts* Jean conclusion overblown and unfounded. 3) Cyclops is forever regarded as going out a like a punk.
Blogger Geoff Klock has written about how Marsden off-balanced Superman Returns. And Klock was right. Marsden plays Richard White, whom Lois Lane married after Superman flew off for years and left her to live a normal life. When Superman proverbially returns, however, she’s once again a comicbook heroine and Marsden’s upstanding qualities are now nonetheless pedestrian and not-good-enough. He flies a plane, but he doesn’t fly.
As Klock writes, Marsden upset Superman Returns because we the audience likes him too much. Marsden is too relatable, and his character becomes the audience’s surrogate, instead of Clark. This leaves Lois and Clark looking immature and cruel with their infidelity. Who would cheat on a stand-up guy like Richard White, who is just the right amount of insecure, confidant and understanding, and who puts the well-being of others before his own even though he’s not invulnerable? Next to a Superman who’s jealous and bulletproof and leaves the planet for years even though, as the film itself asserts, the earth needs him as saviour?
Marsden as Prince Charming (aka Prince Edward) in Enchanted was a logical, genius movement. Here, Marsden reminds that he has talent — not just looking pretty, but also being a serviceable funnyman and singer. It is his best performance yet (and yes, I’m saying that without irony), in a movie that is my sleeper choice of 2007. Amy Adams will get much of the credit and attention (not undeserved), but go back and watch it again or for the first time and see how much Marsden contributes.
Marsden’s Prince, of course, doesn’t get the girl. His Disney-Princess gets sucked into a Hollywood version of “modern” New York and learns that happy-ever-after isn’t an immediate absolute, but an ongoing process. i.e. She learns about relationships, however improbable, given that the romance she learns this from is equally as magical as her animated one with Marsden.
Prince Charming is an apt parallel to much of Marsden’s work. Idealized, outdated, and often little more than a plot device. But, like Prince Edward, Marsden proves that Prince Charming can be actually more interesting and entertaining than our instincts (and that of our filmmakers) tell us.
So far, filmmakers have used Marsden to prove that no, the perfect looking dude doesn’t always get the girl. We’re supposed to be comforted by that. But it’s an attempt that is constantly foiled by Marsden, whom, defying all superficial logic, is actually easier to relate to than his counterparts — Wolverine, Ryan Gosling in lumberjack chic, The Man of Steel, McDreamy.
And by constantly losing the girl, being at turns goofy, emotional, strong, measured, Marsden, despite looking like an underwear model, is cementing his place as the most relatable normal-guy working in genre films right now. Watch out, 2008. Marsden told you to stay away from his girl.