EVERYTHING IS progressing according to plan. After growing up near the U.S.-Canadian border and then breaking into Hollywood as a very young actor, he moved from his adolescent TV series and a hard-won run of small roles into goofy big-screen comedies and better, smarter television series. Then, in his 30s, he became a 6’2″ heartthrob who’s been married to a “Lost in Translation” actress, and industry tabloids were touting his ripped physique as he inherited a role in a Marvel feature film. Yes, everything is progressing according to plan.
Only, someone else is now fulfilling his plan. Which is another way of saying:
Sorry, Ryan Reynolds, but Chris Pratt is having your career.
Yes, as recently as four years ago, this was the Reynolds arc. The Vancouver-born actor had shed his “Van Wilder” days for turns as Deadpool in “X-Men: Wolverine” and the leading man in a big nuptials-related rom-com hit (“The Proposal”). He was set for his title turn in DC’s “The Green Lantern,” which was supposed to flip his star wattage up to incandescent.
But then, as we know, “Green Lantern” flopped — followed by such other big-target misses as “R.I.P.D.” — and Reynolds has been trying to get back on track ever since.
That’s left the door open for Chris Pratt, the Minnesota-born, Washington state-bred transplant three years his junior, who did his youthful television time on “Everwood” and “The O.C.” before becoming lovable schlub Andy Dwyer on “Parks and Recreation.” Among his many projects, he showed up in a nuptials-related rom-com hit (“The Five-Year Engagement”) and, for three years running, appeared in a best picture Oscar nominee (“Moneyball,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Her”).
Then came Pratt’s shot at a Marvel-character role — and he hit it out of the park. His star-turn as Star-Lord in “Guardians of the Galaxy” helped propel that semi-surprise hit to critical kudos and big box office success. That was followed by another huge hit just months later as he lent his voice to “The LEGO Movie.”
This past weekend, Pratt’s spin in an Indiana Jones-type role has helped “Jurassic World” become the biggest opener ever, both domestically and globally, and the first film to top the half-billion-dollar mark worldwide right out of the gate. (It’s as if Pratt predicted it.) This, in terms of recognition and box-office return, moves Pratt inside the entrance of Robert Downey Jr.’s neighborhood.
So just what does Pratt have that Reynolds doesn’t — or that Ryan just has shown to a lesser degree? Well, here’s our humble five-point offering:
1. Playing team ball. Whether he’s portraying a major-leaguer (“Moneyball”), a minor staffer (“Parks and Rec”) or a manhunting SEAL (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Pratt shines while working with a team. That fit well with his first shot at Marvel stardom — his “Guardians” character depended on the quick-witted interplay with his co-heroes, be they flesh, bark or CGI. Contrast that with “Green Lantern,” in which Reynolds, despite his co-stars, was expected to do much of the heavy lifting, and bore more of the post-release baggage than was deserved. And related to that, we have a case of…
2. “Afflection.” That’s our coinage for the affliction that occurred to Ben Affleck once he “graduated” from winning roles in lower-key films and took on the mantle of leading man. As his manner went from un-self-conscious to highly affected, his jaw tightened, the acting muscles stiffened — and some of the charm got choked. Reynolds lost some of the casual-dude looseness, too, once he was ticketed for above-the-title Stardom. Which is why it’s crucial that Pratt has…
3. A smirk that works. Pratt can play cocky with a winning grin, but it’s also the toothy look of the overconfident con man or the flashing dazzle of the fast-prattle adventurer. Pratt, often an ever-likable Everyman in part, is able to convey more charm that disarms, with a wink of vulnerability and a core of humanity. Which helps when you play off of…
4. Must-see CGI. Between digital raccoons and monosyllabic foliage, Pratt knows how to act convincingly on the green screen. Now, with “Jurassic World” and all those “invisible” raptors, Pratt proves he doesn’t need to see it to play it big, either. Which helps when…
5. You’re incredibly savvy at picking your parts. Pratt knows his strengths and has played his hand beautifully so far, choosing smart roles and scripts within his wheelhouse.
So if Reynolds can learn anything from Pratt’s path in hopes of getting his box-office mojo back, it’s perhaps somewhere in those five points. Reynolds has two big roles next year: He’ll play opposite such veteran award-winning stars as Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones (as well as “Wonder Woman” Gal Gadot) in “Criminal,” and will play a Marvel antihero again, though this time now in the title role, in “Deadpool.” And next month, he’ll star in “Self/Less” with that Oscar-winning powerhouse, Ben Kingsley.
A return to a higher trajectory awaits.