Nice Guys Finish Last: The James Marsden Complex
There are some actors that just have a niche role. Whether it’s Al Pacino playing tough guys from The Godfather to Scarface or Katherine Heigl playing Kathering Heigl in every other movie that came out in 2010; for every level and genre of film there is an actor who plays a specific type in them. Sometimes these niche actors can crossover and do other kinds of work (if you’re working with the aforementioned examples, this would be Pacino if you hadn’t guessed), leaving their type behind and doing something radically different. But then, there is he. He who carries his type with him to new genres and levels: pushing boundaries while yet remaining exactly the same. He is a miracle of Hollywood as he is the only one of his kind. His role in the pantheon of character types? To finish last. He is James Marsden and he is Mister Nice Guy.
Who is “Mister Nice Guy”, you ask? (If you’re thinking Stanely Ipkiss’ nom de plume from The Mask, nice knowledge of film minutiae, but no). This type is the man who gives the lead female conflict. Mr. NG is a kind, charming, completely affable secondary character, bearing few faults and even those are somehow endearing. That’s why the lead female chooses him. He’s safe, reliable, and exercises good hygiene. There’s nothing wrong with him; he’s just a nice guy. That’s why when the incredibly attractive, intriguing, and charismatic lead male character enters, lead female is thrown for a complete loop. She should totally stay with the Nice Guy. I mean, why not? But she is compelled, by physical or emotional needs to follow the male lead because he’s (insert nearly super-human traits of attractiveness here). There’s no way Nice Guy can compete. He’s not bad, but he’s not great either. He loses the girl, and he always will.
Now you might be thinking, “Come on! Marsden’s had a lot of different movies spanning lots of genres. There’s no way he can be the same kind of character in all of them”. That’s Marsden’s power: his type transcends genres to follow him into every film he does. Let’s explore them, shall we?
Action: The X-Men series. Marsden has a great turn as Scott Summers, i.e. Cyclops. Now Cyclops is the leader of the X-Men, he’s got a great super power and he’s got a…fine girl in Jean Grey. Unfortunately for Scott, Wolverine comes along, and, as we all know, Wolverine is the shit. Scott stands no chance as he tries to keep Wolverine away from Jean, especially since Jean gets worse and worse at fighting his adamantium advances. In the end what happens? Jean shows Scott just how expendable he is by turning him into pollen with her Phoenix powers. Now you might retort by saying, “Aquisha, now you know he was only written out so he could be in Superman Returns”. Yes, he was. A movie where Marsden’s the (unknowing step-) dad to a son fathered by Superman who is taking his not-quite-fiancee Lois Lane on late-night trips to the stars right under his nose. So what’s worse, being vaporized by Jean Grey or cuckolded by The Man of Steel? Yeah, tough call.
Family: Enchanted. James is the brave yet air-headed Prince Edward of the animated world of Andalasia. His would be princess Giselle (Amy Adams) is thrown into real world New York City by his conniving step-mother and taken in by a divorced lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) and his young daughter. What happens? Sweet Giselle is assimilated into the real world, coming to want more out of her “prince charming” than nice teeth and a love song. Prince Edward is just too 2D for her new 3D kind outlook on love and chooses to stay with Dempsey on the upper west side.
Romantic Drama: The Notebook. In what has unfortunately become the romance movie of the last ten years, Marsden goes down as “The Other Guy in the Movie Who’s Not Ryan Gosling”. Now, while this befalls most men left in Gosling’s wake (so much so that today, to a lot of women, every man is known simply as Not-Ryan Gosling), Marsden was the first and best illustrated example of it. This is Marsden’s type in a nutshell; be nothing but charming and handsome for an hour and a half, get screwed over in the last thirty minutes.
Even that horror movie remake, Straw Dogs is about Marsden having to prove himself worthy of keeping the affections of Kate Bosworth from Alexander Skarsgard. No matter the genre, the poor guy can’t catch a break.
There are a few movies where things work out in the end for Marsden (Sugar and Spice, 27 Dresses, and hey, he even gets a girl in Enchanted). But in his largest and most publicized films, he gets passed over. Well, I don’t know you about you, but I think James Marsden is better than that. He’s really attractive and charming and can even be a little goofy. What’s not to earnestly like? I think he deserves to get the girl without having to kill backwater hillbillies to do it. Hollywood, break the cycle. Give James Marsden some love, not pity love or complacent love, but all out, girl can’t keep her hands off of him love. Yes he’s a nice guy. I just think it’s high time we reward him for it.
P.S. I recognize this article is a perfect opportunity to illustrate how Hollywood is constantly telling women that they should hold out for some unrealistically perfect guy and thereby making them miserable in healthy and potentially great relationships that they have or can have with more realistic and perfectly decent guys like the ones Marsden always plays…but, this is more fun.