The arguments are long, the discussions persuasive, and the gif-battles alluring, but always and forever, the battle of the best Chris shall wage on. The core four Chrises of our current generation of Hollywood superstardom - Pine, Evans, Hemsworth and Pratt - represent much: A profitable brand of masculinity, an industry mandated model of the ideal hero, the actor struggle against typecasting, and much more. When four of cinema’s most visible leading men are all handsome white dudes named Chris, all of whom look similar enough from a distance and are a tad too easy to confuse with one another, how could we not spend our days obsessing over which one comes out on top?
For as long as we’ve discussed this, there have been eternal truths, the main one being that Evans will inevitably always find his way back to the number one spot thanks to a combination of charm, real-life Captain America fights against Nazis and well-timed adorable dog videos. The list is prone to change and robust re-organisation, but there’s always a battle for the top place depending on the shifting of the zeitgeist. However, one thing I’ve found that’s remained relatively consistent for the past year or so is who sits in last place. This is obviously not set in stone, nor does it apply to every person who ever makes their own Chris list, but for quite some time now, Pratt has sat in last place and the crowd doesn’t seem that interested in letting him move upwards.
This wasn’t always the case: For a brief time following the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, Pratt made a solid case for the best Chris. The schlubby but loveable Andy Dwyer from Parks & Recreation, the comedic sidekick in many a middling comedy, had suddenly become a bona fide leading man with the muscle definition to match. Not only did he look the part but he had retained his funny side, honing it into a Harrison Ford inspired cheeky charm that helped catapult Guardian of the Galazy well beyond its projected box office. A year later, he headlined the 4th highest grossing film of all time, Jurassic World and strengthened his position as a full-on A-Lister.
I used to like Chris Pratt a lot, but now there’s a lot I just can’t deal with. It’s not all his fault; he’s found himself as an unlikely representation of an industry-wide battle to cling to a beloved trope that no longer feels relevant or charming in 2017. Pratt clearly put in an immense amount of work in order to adhere to Hollywood’s demands of masculinity, and that’s paid off well for him, but for many, it’s made him less appealing.
It’s impossible to talk about the evolution of Pratt without centring the discussion on his body. In an interview with Men’s Health, given while promoting Jurassic World in which he is classically buff, Pratt talks of wanting to get fatter for the role of Andy Dwyer, which he ‘announced [it] to the whole cast, and then it became a bit of a game: how fat can I get and how fast. I would eat four burgers at every read. I became really fat and got up to almost 300lb.’ Andy was originally intended to be a temporary character, the jobless slacker weight around Ann Perkins’ neck, but Pratt’s incredibly amiable charm was so appealing that the character became a full member of the ensemble after the first season.
Andy’s schlubbiness is part of his charm - he’s almost childlike in his innocence at times and has an array of silly aliases throughout the show’s run - but there aren’t a whole lot of jokes at the expense of his fatness, which is refreshing given comedy’s penchant for easy targets. Pratt’s body is still part of that comedic build: Chubbiness is coded as adorable and non-threatening, but it’s also a reminder of Andy’s lazier days. When someone looks a certain way, audiences make certain assumptions not only about their character but their humour. The fat guy is funny, and so it goes. Pratt did well in those funny side-gigs on film and TV for a while, although he wasn’t the famous one in his marriage during this period.
The other justification Pratt gives for his weight gain before his Hollywood break is his wife, actress Anna Faris (the pair are now legally separated). One of the 2000s’ best comedic actresses, crowned ‘her generations’ Goldie Hawn’ by Vulture, Faris was a hilarious presence in many a terrible comedy, throwing her full weight into the most goofy, physically committed and outrageous roles. When she and Pratt married in 2009, Faris was unquestionably the star; a future Lucille Ball who just needed the material deserving of her skills. One of the things that originally made Pratt so charming was his dedication to his wife. Their love seemed lived-in, familiar but still dreamy in its romance, and Pratt seemed truly smitten with Faris. That’s what makes his Men’s Health quote about her so unusual:
‘I put on weight because I’d fallen in love with a woman [actress Anna Faris] who loved to feed her man. We were drinking a lot of wine and having fun. I was her little Hansel out in the woods and she was fattening me up to put me in the fire. It was like Momma Bear and Papa Bear. She would eat a little bit, I would eat all of mine and the rest of hers.’
This quote was probably said in jest on some level, but it’s also one that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Even after positioning his voluntary weight gain, something he describes as having made him both very unhappy and seriously ill (and impotent), as part of his job, this semi-jokey blame pushing towards his wife signals a new shift in their relationship dynamics. By now, Pratt was the movie star, the action man A-Lister who saved the world and got the girl, and Faris was the TV star, having made the jump full-time to the small screen for the CBS show Mom.
Pratt had already gotten buff for a role in Zero Dark Thirty but it was Guardians of the Galaxy that cemented his new status. Peter Quill, A.K.A. Star Lord, is a guy who grew up watching ’80s action movies and models himself on the heroes of that genre. He’s the Han Solo who’s absolutely dying to tell you at every opportune moment that he’s Han Solo. This archetype - the devilish rogue with three days of stubble, a casual attitude towards women and the ego to propel him towards saving the universe - has its charm, and Pratt pulls it off with panache. It’s a role Pratt could have done in his sleep at any point in his career, but you’re painfully aware that the industry never would have let him do it if he had still looked like Andy Dwyer.
Star Lord is a deliberately old-school hero, but the first film doesn’t do much to call out this trope for its archaic nature. To his credit, the director James Gunn was at least aware of this when it came to making important changes in the second film, but there are still moments, like Drax calling Gamora a ‘whore’, that sting upon re-watch. By the time we see Pratt in Jurassic World, recycling the shtick he already borrowed liberally from Harrison Ford, it became tiring. Much has been written about Jurassic World and its astoundingly tone-deaf gender dynamics: The crying women, the assistant’s needlessly brutal death, those bloody high-heels. The central romantic dynamic between Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard clearly has dreams of being this era’s Romancing the Stone, but what it ends up being is an eye-rolling display of a professional woman being ceaselessly belittled by the men in her life until her defences come down and she throws herself into a smooch with the one who did the most negging. The movie takes every opportunity to treat Howard like a fool while lifting Pratt up to godlike status. He’s handsome! He’s ‘charming’! He’s the Dr. Doolittle of raptors and can lead them on a rampage of friendship from his super-cool motorcycle! He’s basically an Andy Dwyer fantasy come true, although I doubt Andy would be so sneering towards the woman he’s supposed to love.
By the time Pratt was in Passengers, arguably one of the most misguided modern blockbusters of the past decade, the routine had become old hat, and there always seemed to be this underlying vein of misogyny that permeated his biggest work. It wasn’t necessarily Pratt’s fault, it’s just that this was the persona he had been boxed into as part of his worldwide success, and the industry had no idea what to do with that trope beyond cover what it already knew. As noted by Wesley Morris in the New York Times, ‘Chris Pratt basically did the best of Harrison Ford in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. Mr. Pratt knows what he’s doing. But can he succeed outside of recycled sci-fi? His sexy-aggrieved-chauvinist shtick is funny. It’s also someone else’s. He’s a karaoke movie star.’
Of course, the potential of a Chris cannot be limited to what we see on-screen. Everything is fair game in the great debate, and this is a key area where Pratt has disappointed many. He’s a proud hunter with a lifelong love of guns, including a ‘stash up in Washington State, which is where he keeps all his guns that aren’t legal in California’, according to a GQ profile. Pratt is also open about his intense dedication to his Christian faith, demonstrated in its most literal term when he and some friends erected a giant metal cross on Easter Sunday last year. We don’t actually know Pratt’s political leanings - he’s never shared them, unlike proudly liberal Chris Evans - so we’ve no idea if he’s a Republican but that hasn’t stopped him becoming something of a conservative icon thanks to all the above. He was at least smart enough to admit he screwed up when he wrongly claimed Hollywood lacked for representation of blue collar America. If he is Republican, Pratt would hardly be alone in his political leanings in the industry, but it’s probably the right PR move to not give too much away, at least in this current climate. Pratt and Faris have also been pretty terrible pet owners, having been fined for improperly giving up one of their pets as well as trying to give away their cat on Twitter several years ago.
Listing a bunch of reasons to rank a Chris as the worst doesn’t really do him or anyone justice. Sometimes it’s just instinctual and there’s no reason for disliking someone. However, I do believe that the coldness towards Pratt in recent years is rooted in a combination of the persona he uses in his biggest films, the unsavoury implications of that mould in modern cinema, and perceptions audiences have about him based on the slivers of information we have about his real life. The winds could change any day and Pratt could be Chris Supreme once more. It’s all possible but it will require more from Pratt than what we’ve seen. His upcoming list of projects is limited to Marvel movies and sequels to Jurassic World and The Lego Movie, which won’t help - the perils of franchise living - but the potential is certainly there. It just requires Chris Pratt to know who he is and what he’s doing.