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How Chris Pratt became the internet’s celebrity punching bag

News that the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ star will voice both Garfield and Mario in forthcoming animated movies has been met with mockery and memes. When did he become shorthand for the decidedly un-chic celebrity, asks Adam White

Friday 05 November 2021 13:28
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<p>Chris Pratt at the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War in 2018</p>

Chris Pratt at the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War in 2018

Chris Pratt voicing Garfield in an animated film is rather like Chris Pratt voicing Mario in an animated film – equally confusing, equally unimaginative, and equally happening whether Twitter likes it or not. Pratt’s involvement in those two movies – a Garfield reboot by Sony and a Super Mario Bros film from Universal – has given way to numerous jokes and memes, alternate casting suggestions and collective eye rolling. Most of all, though, it’s provided further evidence that Pratt is one of the internet’s most prolific celebrity punching bags, despite being one of Hollywood’s most in-demand leading men. Call it the Star-Lord paradox.

That role – in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies – saw Pratt transform his body from one of a soft everyman to that of a ripped action hero. Suddenly, he was a matinee idol. Personality-wise, Star-Lord riffed on the affable charisma Pratt radiated on the TV comedy Parks & Recreation, a series in which he regularly stole scenes. His giddy, child-like excitement in specific moments would be immortalised in reaction memes everyone’s older cousin would spam across Facebook. Today, though, mention of Pratt’s name online seems to elicit exhausted sighs rather than anything celebratory. He’s become shorthand for the decidedly un-chic famous person it’s fine – and even encouraged – to be mean about, a sort of James Corden with abs, or the total inverse of the internet-beloved Brendan Fraser. And just days after his Garfield casting was announced, he was trending further, this time for a slightly wacky Instagram thank you to his wife – the self-help author and daughter of Arnie, Katherine Schwarzenegger – for adoring him so much.

Conventional wisdom is that Pratt’s stumble into the internet’s crosshairs stems from his politics, or lack thereof. Likewise, his involvement in an evangelical-Christian church accused in 2019 of being “anti-gay” by Elliot Page, to whom Pratt somewhat ambiguously responded by saying that it “opens its doors to absolutely everyone”. Stars are meant to use their voices for socio-political good, it is claimed, and someone like Pratt – who has said he doesn’t feel “represented by either side” and therefore avoids talking about politics in public – has breached a Hollywood code by staying out of it all. But it’s also a theory that doesn’t hold an enormous amount of water. Many famous people comparatively adored by the internet are also slightly reserved when it comes to their personal worldviews: can you remember the last time Margot Robbie or Timothée Chalamet said anything remotely specific about their political stances?

If incredibly popular movie stars can keep their opinions on the down-low with little brouhaha, why has Pratt been singled out? In truth, it feels less to do with his personal life and more to do with cool.

In the wake of Guardians of the Galaxy, Pratt became synonymous with the dregs of Hollywood creativity. He is the face of the revived Jurassic Park franchise, otherwise recognised as a deeply cynical money-making venture built solely on nostalgia and decent CGI. He starred in a Magnificent Seven remake forgotten as soon as it dropped out of cinemas, and Garfield and Super Mario Bros mark two more animated ventures in recent years – after his Lego Movie franchise – only made to exploit existing intellectual property. His biggest post-Marvel starring role in an original movie – the sci-fi romance Passengers, alongside Jennifer Lawrence – was also a morally reprehensible disaster in which he gaslit his love interest for 90 minutes before trapping her in a lifetime of interacting with absolutely no human being who isn’t Chris Pratt. In general, the actor’s leading-man career choices have been phenomenally underwhelming for a star whose charisma burns through the screen whenever he’s in a goofy comedy.

Just as uncool as those films was a bizarre round-robin of defensive praise by Pratt’s Marvel co-stars in 2020, all of them responding to a random Twitter thread that decided Pratt was Hollywood’s “worst Chris”. The thread in question – which pitted Pratt against fellow Chrises Hemsworth, Evans and Pine – was nothing new for the internet, which seems to cycle through the same flimsy “debates” about nothing important every few weeks, but for some reason it got traction. “If you take issue with Chris, I’ve got a novel idea: delete your social media accounts, sit with your OWN defects of character, work on THEM, then celebrate your humanness,” wrote Robert Downey Jr. “Chris Pratt is as solid a man there is,” added Mark Ruffalo. “Chris Pratt is the best dude in the world,” wrote Guardians director James Gunn.

Beyond the fact that so many Marvel heavyweights didn’t leap to Brie Larson’s defence when she was being tarred and feathered by the alt-right throughout 2019 for asking to be interviewed by more Black women journalists – or express much support for Scarlett Johansson when she was effectively dubbed an elitist, money-crazed harridan by Disney’s lawyers after she sued the corporation over Black Widow profits this summer – it was an oddly sanctimonious look all-round. Especially for some mild tittering on the internet.

But while Pratt – or any incredibly wealthy, powerful and successful famous person – shouldn’t be off-limits to light mockery or criticism, it’s always worth asking why some seem more magnetised to it than others. After all, Pratt himself doesn’t seem like a bad person, just a very religious, slightly bland movie star a bit too attached to appearing in terrible films. He’s not more deserving of praise than anyone else, but also doesn’t warrant much more jeering, either. So when he’s announced as the first cast member in – I don’t know – a film version of Hungry Hungry Hippos or something similarly unfortunate, hold fire on your mocking tweet. Not because it’s unfair, just because it’s sort of tedious.

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