Is he the next Harrison Ford? Do you want him to be?
A dynamic young actor gets hired for a sitcom. The sitcom is popular in a mid-ratings niche-y way—but it quickly becomes a showcase for the young actor’s unique talents. The big screen beckons: Supporting roles, and then an attention-grabbing lead performance in a wacky adventure movie. Suddenly, the miracle: Steven Spielberg notices the actor. The reigning blockbuster demi-god likes what he sees. And Spielberg’s producing a big-budget movie, with special effects and a built-in fanbase and a summer release date: He makes sure the actor gets the lead.
The movie is a hit. It’s also a warm-up. Spielberg has big plans for our boy. Because just when this actor thinks his career can’t possibly get any better—just when every media outlet starts musing that here, at long last, is the Male Action Movie Star that America has been dreaming of—Spielberg makes the actor an offer he can’t refuse: Will he star in the next Indiana Jones movie?
Eight years ago, Shia LaBeouf said yes.
Now, Chris Pratt is operating from a position of strength that LaBeouf could only dream of, which is why none of the Chris Pratt rumors involve the phrase “Indiana Jones’ son.” Before Jurassic World topped $200 million at the box office this weekend, he already had two franchises (Guardians of the Galaxy and The LEGO Movie) and the general all-consuming love of the social-media complex. You got a sense of Pratt’s power in Hollywood from his charming cameo in the Sony Hack: Fellow buzzy young star Channing Tatum was apparently secretly plotting with buzzy directing duo Joe & Anthony Russo to get Pratt into a Ghostbusters reboot.
In a recent interview with GQ, Pratt called any rumors of him ghostbusting “complete bulls—.” That is not the kind of language he uses when people ask him about that other big ’80s reboot rumor: The one about how Steven Spielberg would like Chris Pratt to become the new Indiana Jones. Would Pratt like to be the new Indiana Jones? Yes. He’s thought about it—maybe just in the abstract, and maybe because Spielberg was involved in getting Pratt into Jurassic World.
In the first three Jurassic Park movies, the protagonist trended everyman, nerdy: Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill again. These are not the words you would use to describe Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady, ex-military man of action. He’s Dances With Wolves, except the wolves are Velociraptors, and instead of dancing he drives a sweet motorcycle. He has some vaguely scientific expertise, and he’s oddly old-fashioned about the biotechnological organisms under his control. Whenever Vincent D’Onofrio slithers onscreen preaching a gospel of raptor warfare, Pratt’s passionate counter-arguments sound familiar: You keep expecting him to yell “These dinosaurs belong in a museum!”
So: Chris Pratt as Indiana Jones? Would it work? Would you want it to work? These questions lead to bigger questions: What defines Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, in one great movie and one very good movie and one very weird movie and one very bad movie? Here’s what comes to mind:
Indiana Jones is a very smart guy. The first Raiders of the Lost Ark establishes Indy’s action bona fides in the first scene: Bullwhip, booby traps, boulder, run run run. But then comes the Chalkboard Scene: Five minutes of pure exposition where Harrison Ford gives an impromptu lecture to a couple FBI guys (and the audience!) about the history of the Ark of the Covenant and the proper usage for the Staff of Ra.
This scene famously shouldn’t work, because action movies don’t do exposition, and it famously does work, because Steven Spielberg is a genius but also because you buy Harrison Ford as a no-nonsense smart guy. This isn’t necessarily something Chris Pratt has been called upon to do before—his characters trend goofy—but there are a few moments in World that point in this direction. When Owen gets called in to provide some expert opinions about neo-dino Indominus Rex, he immediately launches into a series of questions demonstrating his expertise. He manages to psychoanalyze the Indominus within a minute. (Raised in captivity, no social connections = probably not a good idea.)
Pratt probably seems much younger to you than Harrison Ford in the original Indy movies—partially because Pratt’s persona is fundamentally boyish and partially because he is younger. But not by much: Ford was 38 when Raiders of the Lost Ark hit theaters. Pratt’s about to turn 36, and with Guardians 2 yet to film, he wouldn’t be able to get to Indiana Jones 5 until late next year at the earliest.
Indiana Jones is a capable badass, but it is actually more fun to watch him get beaten up by bigger badasses. Harrison Ford as Indy can throw a punch, but the movies love pairing him up against people who are much better at throwing punches. Think of him fighting the big German in Raiders of the Lost Ark, or dangling off a tank getting slammed into a cliff-face in Last Crusade. The key here is that Jones always needs to use his ingenuity to fight the bigger guy—or just hope there’s a propeller nearby.
Ford gets beaten up in Indiana Jones movies—his cool outfit always gets torn to pieces, covered in dirt and mud and just enough blood to let you know he’s hurting. In this regard, Owen in Jurassic World is more of a typical contemporary action guy: He might have to run away from a bunch of dinosaurs, but his snazzy work-vest combo still looks freshly-pressed by the end of the movie. The most Indy-esque moment for Pratt is actually pretty early: Hiding from the Indominus, he crawls under a car, cuts open the fuel line, and takes a gasoline bath.
Indiana Jones can drive anything. Pratt looks good on a motorcycle, and we’ve already seen him do spaceships in Guardians of the Galaxy, although there’s an obvious missed opportunity not letting him fly one of the helicopters in Jurassic World.
Indiana Jones is a spiteful romantic. Forget Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Harrison Ford carries on one of the great romcom-action banters with ideal sparring partner Karen Allen. Look to Temple of Doom and Last Crusade, where Ford actually sells the idea that Indy has the hots for a screeching nightclub singer and a nefarious scientist vixen. There’s a throwback Howard Hawks dynamic in all these romances, a sense that both parties can give as good as they get.
Can Pratt do romance? There’s a bizarre trend when you look at his recent career: He’s constantly paired up with actresses playing characters defined by a deadpan lack of emotion. Aubrey Plaza as April on Parks & Recreation, Zoe Saldana as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy, and now Bryce Dallas Howard as a mannequin in Jurassic World: In each case, Pratt gets deployed as the sassy-cool wacky guy whose main flirtation method is teaching these ladies to just chill out.
So I think we need to mark this column with a Maybe at this point. Maybe not for long: Pratt is currently circling a sci-fi romance that would pair him up with Jennifer Lawrence—an uncannily perfect pairing of charming star personae. Can you imagine the talk-show appearances?
What do you think? Is Pratt your pick for Indiana Jones? Or would you prefer him as John McClane?