Maybe Everyone Is Mad at Chris Pratt Because He’s a Lousy Movie Star

Don’t blame his religious beliefs or society’s unhealthy parasocial relationship with celebrities for the online hatred directed toward the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ star. It’s that he has yet to live up to his big-screen potential — and it’s not certain he ever will
Maybe Everyone Is Mad at Chris Pratt Because He’s a Lousy Movie Star

This weekend, Chris Pratt is going to be in the two biggest movies in the country. The Super Mario Bros. Movie has made over a billion dollars worldwide and been No. 1 in the U.S. for four straight weeks. But this Friday, it will be knocked down to second place by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which looks to be a blockbuster. Add in the fact that last year’s Jurassic World: Dominion also brought in a billion dollars, and one could argue that Pratt is currently among the biggest movie stars in the world.

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Did that last sentence make you roll your eyes? Then you may be one of the many people who deeply dislike the 43-year-old actor. Perhaps you once enjoyed him, but now? Oh, you’re sick of him — and you’re not alone. Recently, it seems like a sizable chunk of the population (at least on social media) has decided they’ve had enough of the guy.

How did this happen? The internet has been trying to solve this riddle for years, painstakingly dissecting his journey from endearing Parks and Recreation star to cringe-y, uncool celebrity. And it’s not just BuzzFeed and Vulture diving into the debate: Just a few weeks ago, the Christian magazine Relevant published an essay entitled “Why Did Everybody Turn on Chris Pratt?” which blamed his drop in popularity, in part, on fans’ discomfort with his religious faith. Judging solely based on box office, Pratt couldn’t be more beloved. But we live in the real world, where he’s a lot less liked.

The Mary Sue provided a helpful timeline of the myriad reasons people have turned on Pratt, and most of them you probably remember, so it’s not worth relitigating all of that. (In a nutshell: People thought he was a member of Hillsong, a church with horrifically homophobic views; he later said that he was never a member. People got mad when his second child was born, to his current wife Katherine Schwarzenegger, and he praised the baby for being “healthy,” which was perceived as a criticism of his first wife, actress Anna Faris, who gave birth to his son, who has had health issues all his life. And, before that, people were pissed at him for divorcing Faris, who the world adores.) That’s not all of it, of course — just the fact that he’s a vocal Christian weirds some folks out as well — and by 2020, the steady drumbeat of criticism prompted the rest of Pratt’s Marvel crew to go on a PR offensive to defend their buddy in light of a Twitter meme that decided he was the worst of the Chrises

When Pratt did an in-depth profile with Men’s Health last year, much of the piece was spent on him clarifying his views and explaining himself, which is usually not what happens when everybody thinks you’re awesome. The piling-on got so bad that when he was announced as the voice of Mario in The Super Mario Bros. Movie, people lost their minds. The public chorus was deafening: Why won’t that guy just go away?!?!

I’m often baffled when a backlash comes for a celebrity that everyone used to like. All of a sudden, Anne Hathaway was loathed. Same with Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence. Sometimes, the newfound animosity stems from the public’s unhealthy parasocial relationship with the star. (“We thought John Mulaney was such a sweet guy, but then he divorced his wife and got Olivia Munn pregnant!”) We’re all human and, therefore, susceptible to disliking certain famous people for their silliest of reasons, but in general, I think people’s tsunami-like negative reactions are dumb. Usually, it has nothing to do with the actor’s work — it’s more of an ineffable, “I just find them annoying” rationale — and as long as they’re not doing something truly problematic, I’m inclined to block out all that outside noise and just focus on the résumé.

But I think the Pratt backlash goes beyond the usual social-media grumblings. Sure, maybe you don’t dig the dude because he talks about the Bible. Yeah, I thought he and Faris were an adorable couple, too. But I’d put the blame squarely up there on the screen instead. You didn’t have to stan Pratt to have had high hopes for his film career. And from a commercial perspective, you certainly can’t argue with his track record. (Even Passengers, that 2016 sci-fi movie he made with Lawrence that was universally panned, actually did pretty well at the box office.) But creatively, he’s been mostly a huge letdown. 

Really, I blame Jurassic World.

Things were going pretty well for Pratt up to that point. It was the summer of 2015, and he’d just finished his career-making stint on Parks and Rec, playing the lovably dense Andy Dwyer. The character was like a big, happy, dopey puppy dog — kind and sincere — and the relative-unknown Pratt was a delightful surprise in the role. You couldn’t help but root for the guy, and when he started popping up in small roles in big movies in the early 2010s, like Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty, it was always a treat. Then came superstardom thanks to The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, with Pratt riding the goodwill a lot of us felt toward him. His was a feel-good success story: how a dude who was once homeless in Hawaii climbed to the top of the Hollywood food chain without becoming a jerk in the process. It’s great when nice things happen to nice people.

But Jurassic World changed everything for me. Opening June 12, 2015, it was one of the year’s biggest hits, reminding audiences just how much they loved watching dinosaurs wrecking shit. Not that anyone could remember the name of Pratt’s character. Or any distinguishing quality he had. (Right, he always held his arms out to calm the huge beasts, but other than that? Search me.) In truth, Jurassic World’s Owen Grady — I had to look that up — was just a replacement-level bland hero who awkwardly flirted/bickered with Bryce Dallas Howard’s replacement-level uptight lady. If you want to know what it would be like if two clichés fell in love, the romantic subplot involving Owen and Claire Dearing — I had to look that up, too — is the depressing result. Pratt had never seemed so uncharming, so wooden, so “I really shouldn’t be here.” Who was that guy?

To be fair, anybody can give a bad performance or get trapped in a bad movie. But in quick fashion, Jurassic World started not to seem like an anomaly and more like a grim prophecy of what was to come. I liked 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but I started noticing that it wasn’t really Pratt that made me care about that franchise — it was the characters around Peter Quill, like Drax, Rocket and Gamora. Even behind heavy makeup or rendered digitally, those actors were more affecting than Pratt, who just seemed like a mediocre, old-school swashbuckler. And he was even more superfluous in the later Avengers films, where he struggled to leave an impact amidst the superheroes you actually cared about. If Guardians was Pratt’s Han Solo move, Jurassic World felt like his Indiana Jones audition — perhaps literally, since he was rumored for a while to replace Harrison Ford when new Indy films were being plotted. 

But the more exposure we had to Pratt in big action movies, the more apparent it became that he was no Harrison Ford — and duds like The Magnificent Seven and Passengers suggested he might not be the right fit for Westerns or romantic dramas, either. The effortless goofiness of Andy was gone. In its place was one more chiseled, polished, empty movie star. 

You’ll notice that I didn’t spend any time critiquing his politics — Is he a Republican? I don’t know — or any of his other extracurriculars. (Before researching this piece, I had completely forgotten his completely idiotic comment about Hollywood not making movies about blue-collar characters.) But I suspect that people’s general irritation with his public persona/presence is at least somewhat tied to the blandness he now projects on screen. I quite liked the new Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but Pratt is, once again, not really the most compelling aspect of the movie. A lot of the film has to do with telling Rocket’s backstory in detail, and it really works — especially in comparison with Peter’s just-okay reunion with Gamora. It’s rare that a blockbuster’s main star might be among its least interesting characters, but it’s unfortunately the odd superpower Pratt brings to these movies. He’s fine, and nothing more.

That just-fine-ness, I’d argue, is what gets him in trouble as a celebrity. None of his many controversies are especially egregious — at worst, he says dumb things without thinking — but collectively, they add up to create an impression of a guy who might not be the most thoughtful or bright. Marrying a Schwarzenegger, being cast in one big movie after another — good lord, he’s going to be in a Garfield film — he seems like he won some great-life lottery without really earning it. Yes, his films have been massive hits, but how many of them were really because of him? 

The “Why him?” quality feeds into the culture’s annoyance with his public blunders: We’re not quite sure who decided he was going to be a big deal. People can hate on Tom Cruise for his long association with Scientology and his obsessive qualities all they want, but at least viewers feel like they get their money’s worth when they go to his movies. Pratt is just some guy, so we get exasperated when we have to be reminded of his fame. Even worse, he’s rarely funny anymore, either on-screen or off. It’s been a shame to see what an uninspired superstar he’s become.

That said, who wouldn’t want to trade places with him? Rich, successful, famous, a Hollywood elite: It’s hard to feel too bad for the guy. Still, there’s a contingent of the public utterly turned off by him. You can point the fingers at his faith, his unfortunate comments, his divorce, his conservative tendencies, his try-hard earnestness. Unlike the other Chrises, there’s nothing remotely cool about Chris Pratt. But none of that would matter if his movies were better. I’m not a Pratt hater, but I am awfully disappointed. I get the feeling Andy would like the flicks Pratt makes. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.

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