Top Second Banana Award: 'Superman''s James Marsden
Pity James Marsden: He’s wealthy, charming, and handsome. But he does have a problem: Hollywood seems to have decided he’ll never be a leading man in a major movie. He nabs the role of Cyclops in X-Men, and they write the thing right out from under him. Suddenly Cyclops isn’t so much the charismatic leader of the X-Men as a prep-school lacrosse captain, riven with insecurities and always in need of rescue. ‘Clops sits out most of X2, and by the time the third installment rolls around, his death is a bizarre afterthought, a blip of a plot point. Then Ol’ Jimmy gets cast in Superman Returns… as the second-string fiancé, a role he already perfected in The Notebook. Except this time, his rival is the Man of Friggin’ Steel. Hoo-boy.
But here’s the thing: He’s good in Superman. Really good. In fact, he creates what’s arguably the best-developed, best-realized character in the entire movie. His Richard — a preternaturally “nice” guy who’s also, thankfully, neither a putz nor a patsy — is by far the most human figure in Bryan Singer’s marvelously dreamlike but totally unearthly moviescape. He’s the only character who, by his own example, answers the movie’s principal question: Why does the world need Superman? Answer: Because Superman would be wasted on a world that didn’t contain “ordinary” people as good — not perfect, not super, but good — as Richard. Ordinary goodness is a hard sell in a superhero movie, but Marsden pulls it off effortlessly, without cheese, ick, or obnoxiousness.
Thus, I open the floor to Marsden maniacs, if, indeed, they exist. Let’s hear from fans of his work in The 24th Day, Gossip, Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Want to point everyone to a great Marsden Moment? Want to speculate on his inability to get leading-man traction? (I’d argue he stands apart from the hairless blandness of the world’s Hartnetts and Blooms.) Jimmy it up below.