Chris Pratt is money.
He’s the biggest movie star on the planet. Pratt is the first star since Arnold Schwarzenegger (Total Recall (1990), Terminator 2 (1991) to front the biggest movie of the summer, back to back. Pratt is as hot as Melisandre on the Wall, as Steph Curry, as The O.C. circa 2003-4. If I was writing a script about a guy with a secret who runs a wood-paneled bar in a small town. He falls in love with a gal played by Scarlet Johansson, and other stuff (aliens, apocalypse, ect.) happens. Chris Pratt would be that guy. He’s THE guy.
But good things don’t last, not even the moral and righteous state of the St. Louis Cardinals. How long will Pratt be THE guy?
Chris Pratt’s skill is relateability. Star Lord is a dick, but he’s our dick. Pratt made goofball Andy Dwyer’s stupidity eventually come off as innocence. When a Chris Pratt character tells a joke, it feels like I’ve told a joke. When he punches someone in the face, I’ve punched someone in the face. Even in smaller roles as fools and jerks on so-so movies like Take Me Home Tonight and The Five Year Engagement, Pratt was more engaging than the leads. But as the story now famously goes, Pratt cut the weight and magically became a movie star. That’s not exactly how it worked. Pratt cut the weight, so that on the surface he could look and move like a douchebag, but he retained that inherent sincere, affability that made everyone love Andy. Pratt in Guardians was a near perfect mass of sincere douchery.
Peter Quill is a total dick. His name is a dick joke. But as Corpsman Dey (John C. Reily) and the audience realizes late in the movie, yeah he’s an asshole, but not 100% an asshole. And there’s a difference there that I think writer-director James Gunn gets about both Peter Quill and the movie persona that would make Pratt the biggest movie star on the planet. Pratt can play a dick and get away with it, because he’s not an asshole. His douchery is sincere, that’s just who he is, until Peter figures out he can be a little bit more than that.
In Jurassic World, Pratt plays Owen, and he shares some general similarities with Star Lord. They look pretty much the same (Owen is tanner). They’re both kind of tools, but Owen is more of a hardass than an asshole. He rides motorcycles through the jungle with a pack raptors at his back. Owen wears cool vests. He says things like “if we do this, we do this my way.” He takes over the Dr. Allen Grant (Sam Neil) and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) voice of nature/chaos role. We share his fury and oddly his respect raptors. His relationship to the raptors is like our relationship to him and the movie–one of eventual, mutual respect. Jurassic World like its original is a fun movie. It’s a blockbuster. It’s big. It successfully gestures/alludes to big things like commercialism, militarism, gender war, divorce. And it has dinosaurs. It works, and it works mostly because of Pratt, whose glare and .60 caliber rifle drives the anti-establishment, maverick force of the movie.
Aside from pure performance, what separates Pratt from the crew of late 30s, early 40s white leading men (Bradley Cooper, McConaughey, Tom Hardy, Henry Cavill, Ben Afflect, Armie Hammer (I guess)) is that Pratt is playing the game of the movie star better than any of them. He seems like a generally affable, kind human being–to everyone. And that matters. Generally likability matters, because to front a movie you one to 1) shoot and carry the movie 2) do interviews with anyone with a website and a pen, play silly games on talk shows, sound thoughtful and insightful on podcasts (radio?), and not look like an idiot on social media. And through the promotional tour from Jurassic World, he’d done it pretty flawlessly. He apologized on Facebook for his impending press tour. He was generally affable and insightful on the Nerdist podcast. He ran with heels.
Being a movie star is about finding some essential substance of yourself that plays on screen and manipulating it in different ways. Tom Hanks and Julia Robert’s inherent goodness. Robert Downey Jr.’s quick twitch bravado. Jennifer Lawrence’s volcanic fire. The star Pratt should be emulating, career-wise, is Tom Cruise. He’s our most enduring movie star and his movie star persona is admittedly complicated by Tom-Cruise-the-unsettling-bizarre-human. In every movie, he basically plays ‘Tom Cruise.’ He’s whirlwind of neurotic confidence. But I think Cruise’s essential movie star tick, if you push through the melodramatic ticks of Top Gun and Jerry McGuire, through the calm in chaos of Mission Impossible’s Ethan, through the smug toothy grin, he’s I guy I inherently root for (I’m been trying to understand it for years). In Edge of Tomorrow, he played all of the Cruisian characters we know, which is one of the reasons that movie works.
Chris Pratt has something. He’s relatable, and he’s running with it. So far, he’s used it to star as a-holes, but he doesn’t have to be that in every movie. His persona isn’t the fact that he’s dick, it’s that he’s our dick. He can be our fool, our prince charming, whatever. He’s got the finger roll of Peter Quill and Owen’s fastball. Chris Pratt is a movie star, but to reach that next level, he needs to add a few more pitches before he’s stuck playing tightly coiled mavericks for the next 10 years. If he adds a few more speeds and continues to add layers to Peter Quill, he’ll be the biggest movie star on the planet for the next 10 years.