When we first saw Chris Pratt as Peter Quill in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, it felt, on the surface, like this was a star in the making. The casting of Pratt as the scrappy, wise-cracking head of a ragtag team of intergalactic misfits, off his winsome turn as Parks and Recreation’s good-hearted goofball Andy Dwyer, remains one of the MCU’s more inspired casting decisions. Pratt’s clear knack for comedic timing and embodiment of a loveable idiot translated seamlessly to the blockbuster role of the brash Quill. As Quill, Pratt shaped the endearing comedy of Dwyer into a cocksure loner whose jokes protect an empty heart—an emptiness he desperately needs filled with his found family of Guardians. Whatever one may think about Pratt now—and a good portion of his public image has soured due to gossip surrounding his family, his divorce from Anna Faris and his murky political views—he kills it in Guardians. Pratt proved capable of conveying an affecting mixture of heart and humor, and became a Hollywood star because of it.
But he shouldn’t have been—at least, not in the way that Hollywood wanted. It was obvious from both Guardians films and from the success of Parks and Rec that Pratt was good at being funny. But the big takeaway the industry gleaned from the roles Pratt began to take was that Pratt didn’t need to keep being funny. Pratt needed to be the next big American movie star. He was cast as the lead in the soft reboot of the Jurassic Park franchise: Tough-talking raptor wrangler Owen Grady, romantic foil to Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing.
With the further success of the Jurassic World franchise, things continued to skyrocket for Pratt. He was co-lead of the Magnificent Seven remake opposite Denzel Washington; he starred alongside Jennifer Lawrence in the sci-fi thriller Passengers; he was a former Green Beret First Sergeant in the dystopian action film The Tomorrow War. But with each new dramatic role, it became more apparent that Pratt was not only incapable of leading an action film but that he wasn’t even a particularly good dramatic actor, despite generous box office takes often offsetting his films’ mixed-to-poor critical reception.
That’s too bad, because Pratt doesn’t do “funny” anymore, beyond continuing the MCU role of Peter Quill. The only “funny” roles Pratt seems to take now, the roles that made him into a household name, are voice acting parts in animated films, like the LEGO movies and Disney’s Onward (the latter of which isn’t much of a comedy anyway). He also plans to voice esteemed characters like Mario in the still-untitled Mario film and Garfield in the still-untitled Garfield film—two famously mute characters in need of Pratt’s particular blockbuster brand of snark.
The miscalculated seed planted almost a decade ago about Pratt as Peter Quill bears rotten fruit to this day. The thing about Quill is that Quill is not a movie star role. He’s a character actor role. In another film, he would be comic relief rather than head of a gang, which is exactly what he becomes in the two-part Avengers movies when juxtaposed against the more “serious” characters of the MCU. Quill works as well as he does because he’s playing off an ensemble, something inherent to Pratt’s success on Parks and Recreation. Would Pratt’s performance in Guardians of the Galaxy work nearly as well without a Groot or a Drax? Without even a Tony Stark to crack quips at?
As a serious, dramatic star—flying solo or as one of a group—Pratt just doesn’t have the stuff. You know, the stuff that makes movie stars, movie stars. Pratt lacks versatility, the skill to transition from comedy to drama, and any modicum of gravitas. His richly expressive, doughy comedy face has been replaced by a chiseled, handsome stoicism sheltering absolutely nothing underneath. He conveys no true character or personhood beyond the perception that dramatic acting is just squinting a lot, not smiling and speaking dialogue with an excessive, weightless intensity. When he’s not playing an amiable goofball (or a laughable jock bully as in his earlier roles), it is perhaps a little kind to claim that Pratt is only a complete void of charisma. You can replace him with a blank space and feel no absence.
This was abundantly clear from the first Jurassic World movie—the first cardinal sin—whose trilogy has now been thankfully completed by the abysmal shitstorm that is Jurassic World Dominion. In this third and final installment, Pratt’s failing command of stardom feels more obvious than ever. And it feels like the people behind Dominion are implicitly aware of this, too. Pratt, once the films’ hero, gets largely sidelined by Howard’s Claire and the reunion between the original Jurassic Park trio of Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum. When Pratt is on screen, it’s like there is no one actually there. Upon recollection, I can only visualize a few scenes he was even in. When he’s made to kiss Howard, or the script calls to shoehorn in their dreadfully implausible romance, neither actor wants to be a part of it (in fact, there is a scene towards the beginning where Howard literally grimaces while embracing Pratt on the mouth). It’s hard to know if this character demotion is simply on par for this paltry franchise reboot or a direct response to dwindling audience enthusiasm for Pratt’s presence.
To give him some benefit of the doubt, I’m sure that part of Pratt’s flailing dramatic abilities can be blamed on his choice in roles. He’s either got a bad agent or bad taste, or a little bit of both. But it’s hard to say if his public persona could be forgiven if he ever decided to return to comedy, the genre where he’s clearly more comfortable and skilled. Does Pratt even want to, though? Aside from the aforementioned voice parts, where he’s still the hero (if not also a goofy little guy), Pratt’s got no comedy work on the horizon. Perhaps raunchy comedy conflicts with the God-fearing, Christian family-man persona he’s meticulously crafted over the past few years, and Pratt wishes to fashion himself as a more messianic figure in his film roles.
But while actors from Marlon Brando to Brad Pitt have taken up roles of idolatry in pop culture, that’s all there is to Pratt and his forced image of movie stardom. With Pratt, it’s merely posturing: He’s jacked but sexless, he helms tentpole films but lacks charm, his face is handsome but has no character. Beginning with Guardians of the Galaxy, he was physically molded into what the industry-spanning franchise machine wanted in a leading man. But there’s no amount of box office success in poorly reviewed blockbusters that can make Chris Pratt into a movie star.
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.