If every generation gets the movie star it deserves, then what are we to make of Chris Pratt?
On the surface, he's the ultimate happy-go-lucky doofus: a sitcom sidekick who fell into a marriage with a beautiful actress and somehow landed the leads in two of the biggest summer films two years in a row. Going by that quick log line, Pratt would be easy to dismiss as a byproduct of our lazy, franchised entertainment age – a real-life According to Jim: the dim slob with the hot wife and inexplicable success, a true sign that our culture is doomed.
Yet dig a little deeper – not much, just enough to get past the easy headlines – and Pratt reveals himself as a stealth property: the smartest guy in the room who was playing dumb all along. His only goal: to make the summer movie season fun again. As haphazard and improvised his career arc appears, it's one of the more calculated Hollywood ascents in recent memory.
First, Pratt ingratiated himself with both mainstream television audiences and the influential alt-comedy crowd thanks to his run on NBC's Parks and Recreation. It may have been only a low-rated network sitcom, but it was a low-rated network sitcom that ran for seven critically acclaimed seasons. Middle America gained a passing familiarity with Pratt's face, and the best producers in the industry added a new name to their casting lists.
Pratt then went about building a movie career, slowly and steadily, taking supporting roles in awards bait such as Moneyball, Zero Dark Thirty and Her. Each performance was small enough not to overwhelm, but sharp enough to raise critical eyebrows: He proved he could not only handle the big screen, but Very Serious Dramas, too. With that, he was just one Marvel screen test away from blockbuster immortality, lending his natural cockiness to Guardians of the Galaxy's Star-Lord, to sensational results.
All the while, though, Pratt was busy cultivating an irresistible public image: the guy next door who could also save the day. His social media accounts presented a swooning mix of loving father, devoted husband and on-set merrymaker. On the newsstand, he was Esquire's suave bro-to-go, Entertainment Weekly's chummy king of summer and Men's Health's weight-loss success story. He was everyone's best friend, and he could be yours, too.
Pratt's strategy of ingratiation is surprising only in how blatant it's been. Consider the actor's latest PR move three weeks ago, when he posted a Facebook update pre-emptively apologizing for anything he might say during interviews for his latest film, Jurassic World: "I hope you understand it was never my intention to offend anyone and I am truly sorry. I swear. I'm the nicest guy in the world. And I fully regret what I (accidentally will have) said in (the upcoming foreign and domestic) interview(s). I am not in the business of making excuses. I am just dumb."
It was the perfect antidote to the feigned mea culpas that Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans delivered after making sexist comments during the Avengers: Age of Ultron press tour – and another slick reminder that Pratt knows exactly what he's doing. He admitted as much to GQ last year. "The best stuff that you hear me say will be stuff that I thought of over the past three years," he told the magazine. "The best acting I did was pretending that it was improv and sneaking it in like I just stumbled on it."
It's textbook Pratt: a dumb idea that's just smart enough to work. And so audiences now find themselves entering the second Summer of Pratt with Jurassic World, where the motorcycle-riding star saves the day alongside his team of obedient velociraptors. Stupid? Yes. Fun as hell? Without a doubt.