The internet would like to replace Chris Pratt. This is hardly news since the world’s least favorite Chris has been the subject of many online debates and media-driven moral panics about the supposed dangers of cancel culture. Now, however, the conversation has focused on appropriate replacements for the actor, or, at the very least, discussions over who would be the best choice to take over Pratt’s career should he truly cancel himself into oblivion. It was something of a surprise to see Jack Black emerge as the top contender, with social media giddily sharing their love for the actor-comedian. The surprise wasn’t that people would consider Black for the Pratt mold — when you thought about it for five seconds, it made perfect sense because, you know, Pratt wouldn’t be here without Black — but that all these strangers seemingly responded to the possibility with spontaneous and rapturous enthusiasm. Black has been in the industry for decades and it could be argued that the peak of his career in Hollywood has long passed, yet he’s found a new niche for himself in the social media age that has kept him fresh, beloved, and ready to evolve in a way that many A-Listers have struggled to keep up with.
After doing the WAP dance, Jack Black is my fave over Chris Pratt easily pic.twitter.com/YZFAmy5ti5— bri 🥂 (@DearBelcalis) December 3, 2020
There was a brief period where Jack Black was inescapable. Following the major success of School of Rock and prior appearances in lesser comedies like Shallow Hal, Black became an associated figure among the burgeoning Frat Pack, a vaguely connected group of comedic actors that included Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and the brothers Wilson. These were men — and they were all white men — who fronted some of the highest-grossing comedies of the ’90s and early 2000s, movies that typically blended gross-out laughs with bro-friendly camaraderie. Black’s presence in this unofficial brotherhood was always a curious one because he seldom actually worked with this ensemble. His big comedies weren’t so heavily reliant on the fratty qualities of, say, Old School or early Judd Apatow. He’s often more bombastic, a grand personality whose schlubbiness feels the polar opposite to the unkempt man-babies of an early Todd Phillips film. You wouldn’t follow Ben Stiller into battle, but you’d probably ride alongside Jack Black with pride, especially once you saw School of Rock.
Even though he was frequently typecast following his Golden Globe-nominated turn as Dewey Finn — see Nacho Libre, Year One, and the truly execrable Envy — there’s surprising variety in Black’s filmography. Peter Jackson cast him as Carl Denham in his somewhat divisive remake of King Kong, which allowed Black to play up the smarm as a director of questionable talent and insurmountable ego. He shone in the underseen Noah Baumbach film Margot at the Wedding, and he’s the ideal romantic lead of The Holiday, fitting in with surprising ease to the Nancy Meyers formula.
The jewel in the crown for Black, however, is Bernie, Richard Linklater’s extremely dark comedy about Bernie Tiede, a murderer who was just too darn loveable in his hometown to be tried for the crime. Black walks a fine line between sympathetic and pathetic, playing a man who just wants to be loved even as he commits the indefensible. It’s the kind of great performance that is oft-overlooked because it seems so effortless on the part of the performer. In many ways, Bernie was a stage for Black to perform his greatest hits, albeit with a more deftly layered set of boundaries than he was often given. Maybe the Frat Pack was never the best fit for Black. Perhaps being in the Linklater ensemble is his best path for the future. After that, Black bounced between kids’ fare, including the wildly popular Kung Fu Panda movies, and indie fare that’s often far darker than expected of Black, including The Polka King and the interesting but intensely flawed The D Train. While his moment of A-List supremacy seemed to have passed, Black never stopped working, and he’s always been more fascinating an individual than he’s given credit for. That’s best demonstrated with his next career move.
Black turned to the internet and fully embraced its geek-sphere possibilities. His YouTube channel JablinskiGames, where he posts Let’s Plays with his kids, comedy skits, and behind-the-scenes fun on his movies, has 4.87 million subscribers. On Tik Tok, where he has 4.6 million fans, he is perfectly at home on the platform with dances, lip-syncs, and games with his sons. It’s not easy to be a 50-something man doing half-naked dances to ‘WAP’ on the internet without descending into full-blown ‘How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?’ territory, and yet Black does it with aplomb. His earnest chaos demon personality feels at home here, offering him the ideal platforms to show off how very seriously he takes not being serious in the slightest. There’s confidence there, without an ounce of self-deprecation, which was one of the things that made him so refreshing on the big screen when he broke out. You get the sense that anything could happen when you’re around Jack Black and that his pure swagger will ensure that you’re only too happy to go along for the ride.
While Black seems pretty happy in the niche that he mostly carved out for himself, we can’t help but think of the missed opportunities. Sure, Black would have killed it as Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy but he’s also a sinfully underrated dramatic actor. He seldom gets the chance to show off the depths of his emotional range, but in the rare moments he does, like the little-seen Gus Van Sant drama Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot, he kills it. And then there are his equally uncommon but appealing appearances as a romantic lead. Say what you want about The Holiday but Black is way more enticing a future partner than Jude Law. Let’s face it: the dude is hot. A funny guy with ceaseless self-confidence and none of the expected toxic masculinity accompanying it? Sign us all up.
And yet it’s hard to overlook that Black doesn’t get those chances because, unlike Mr. Pratt, he didn’t undergo the full Marvel six-pack boot camp transformation. Indeed, he’s never drastically changed his appearance for a role. He probably could get cheese grater abs if the role called for it (and the studio brought out the makeover team that turned Pratt into his current form), but it would be kind of a waste. Black’s physicality is so much of his charm. He’s a fat guy, who owns how confident and sexy and funny he is. When he pratfalls or dances in his underpants, it’s not a plea of self-deprecation or a ‘ha, fat boy fall down’ cliché. You just know, you totally believe and desire it, that Black could save the galaxy just as he is. He could stop the villain, get the girl, then show off his moves to an ’80s mixtape, and he could do it better than any dude who gave up carbs for eighteen months.
So yeah, Marvel. Give him a chance. Or, really, Hollywood in general, bring Black back. He doesn’t have to replace Chris Pratt altogether, but we’re certainly not going to complain if he does.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.