The Unlikely Coronation of Chris Pratt


I knew Chris Pratt when he went by Che. Yes, I knew Chris Pratt before and after. I mention this to establish my bona fides when it comes to evaluating his career arc. Yes, like some know-it-all hipster talking about a band that has suddenly seen its popularity begin to soar, I knew-him-when, or before-he-was-cool, or however you want to put it. But I also mention this to establish a little-known data point on that improbable arc.

Pratt has become one of the biggest movie stars on the planet in the last six months -- The LEGO Movie planting his flag in that territory and Marvel's latest juggernaut, Guardians of the Galaxy, ensuring it is there to stay.

Seven short years ago, though, he was merely Che, a foil for the Summer Roberts-Seth Cohen romance on the little-watched fourth season of teen soap opera The O.C. I was one of the few that hung on until the bitter end of that underappreciated show, and while I often defend its final season, Pratt is decidedly not one of the reasons why.

That's a roundabout way of saying that Pratt effuses an irresistibly charming underdog vibe, and not just because he's played such a character in the two films that have vaulted his career in to another stratosphere. Put more simply, it still doesn't seem like he should be a huge movie star, but I'm not in the mood to question such a development, even if it does feel like a major upset of some sort.

Of course, he's not the first actor to rise from relatively humble beginnings. George Clooney had roles on Roseanne, Golden Girls and The Facts of Life before he became a household name. Perhaps it is the benefit of hindsight -- or maybe Clooney is just different -- but even those bit parts seem to have more of a star aura than Pratt's gradual, quiet rise. Andy Dwyer, Pratt's doughy, spaced-out character on Parks and Recreation, is beloved but hardly seems to fit in the trajectory of a certain future star.

His portrayal of Peter Quill in Guardians, however, does fit. Even without the built-in brand recognition of Marvel's other more famous properties, GotG has cleaned up at the box office since its release a little over a week ago, and it possesses the overwhelmingly positive reviews to match. Yes, this is the best Marvel movie since The Avengers (you could even make an argument that it is the best from the studio, period), and much of that is down to Pratt, who perfectly straddles the line between lovable everyman and irresistible heartthrob.

That broad appeal should not be a surprise, even if it feels a bit like one. Pratt has quietly shown his range in everything from Moneyball to Zero Dark Thirty to Her over the last few years, all the while continuing to delight as Dwyer on Parks and Rec.

His turn as Star-Lord would seem to bring all of that together. Peter Quill has considerable heart, but he's also a scoundrel and a thief. He is not afraid of scrap and has bedded countless women throughout the universal, but he's not invincible and he possesses a considerable soft side. There's a Tom-Hanks-meets-Han-Solo thing going on throughout Guardians of the Galaxy, and it was enchanting enough, apparently, to relegate Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel -- two traditional leading men -- to CGI alien status.

Unlikely as it might have seemed a few years ago, that's a sure sign that Pratt is in the ascendancy.