In this installment, we try to settle an odd quandary that has arisen in the last half-decade of Hollywood action movies: Who's the best Chris: Pine, Hemsworth, Pratt or Evans? There's never been a definitive answer … until now.
THE CASE FOR HEMSWORTH
Chris Hemsworth is a dude who just looks like he ought to play Thor. With his rugged handsomeness, flowing locks and muscular build, the Australian actor could very easily pass for a god. But while the role has made him rich and famous, it's how he's played the Asgardian champion — and how he's subverted Thor's square-jawed stoicism in his other films — that make Hemsworth the most delightful and versatile of all the Chrises.
As Thor, he's cultivated a killer deadpan sense of comic timing, often making the God of Thunder the butt of the joke while dealing with an Earth culture he doesn't quite understand. Thor may be a bit of a stuffed shirt, but Hemsworth always has his tongue in his cheek, never letting us forget that comic-book movies ought to be a blast. (You could argue that the 34-year-old actor singlehandedly illustrates why the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so far superior to DC's: Nobody in Justice League is having nearly as much fun as he is.)
But Hemsworth can do more than swing an oversized hammer. Asked to play a dramatic part, like he did in Ron Howard's underrated Rush, he can capably portray the popular, strapping race-car driver James Hunt, always hinting at the insecurity underneath the swagger. And when he was the eye candy in the all-female remake of Ghostbusters, Hemsworth played the perfect mimbo, turning his character's stupidity into something resembling charm. His characters may get by on their looks, but Hemsworth never does — he's got brains and wit to match.
THE CASE FOR PINE
We'd never heard of Chris Pine before he was cast as Captain Kirk in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot. Had you? Apparently he was someone named "Tremor" in Smoking Aces, but otherwise, he was just a guy plucked from the sky to play one of the most famous parts in American pop culture. So it was remarkable how instantly relaxed he was in the role, like it was nothing: He didn't feel the need to do anything more than be, and he ended up effortlessly leading an ensemble of more experienced actors that seemed to instinctively follow his lead.
Pine is from an acting family – his dad plays President Stevenson on Veep – but you'd never know it: There's a refreshing lack of ego in his performances, a quiet comfort in ceding the screen to other actors, particularly ones who aren't as conventional handsome (and white and male) as he is. (His formative years were at Berkeley, not USC or UCLA.)
There's a generosity, a confidence of spirit, in his Steve Trevor: He knows he's not the person that Wonder Woman is and knows that it's his job to support her ... and stay out of her way. He can go darker if he needs to, but his strength is in his ability to be light but still substantial. And don't forget how funny he is: His bit part on Angie Tribeca might have been the best thing that (hilarious) show did this year. The guy can do anything.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE OTHER CHRISES
A quick word about the other two Chrises, whom we both like. Evans has made for a terrific Captain America — and he also does good work when he goes darker in serious sci-fi dramas like Sunshine and Snowpiercer. And Pratt could have retired from acting after playing Andy on Parks and Recreation and he'd still be one of our all-time favorites — which is good to remember since, outside of Star-Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, his movie career has been very inconsistent.
Pratt's ceiling is through the roof, but he seems to be losing sight of why we loved him. Evans looks to be growing into himself: He's also maybe our favorite off-screen Chris. Captain America, indeed.
THE CASE AGAINST PINE
Pine is most famous for playing Kirk, but it's also quite possibly his least-interesting role. He was a revelation in the little-seen Z for Zachariah, a low-key post-apocalyptic drama in which his friendly, good-old-boy loner keeps giving off strong hints of being far more dangerous than he lets on. In the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, Pine believably played a down-on-his-luck Texan who reluctantly goes along for the ride when his wild-man brother (Ben Foster) decides to embark on a desperate crime spree. (Pine more than holds his own with Jeff Bridges in that film's terrifically tense final scene.)
He's hysterical as the dunderheaded prince in Into the Woods — we could have seen a whole movie of just that character. He's a great-looking guy who might be better off becoming a character actor. As a leading man … well, when he tries to be a star, like in This Means War, it seems to bring out a blandness in him that he happily sheds when he does funkier supporting work. This is an argument for giving Hemsworth the slight edge. By the way, we love that Hemsworth plays Kirk's dad in these Star Trek reboots — literally, Pine, who's your daddy?
THE CASE AGAINST HEMSWORTH
Sure, the idea that Hemsworth is Pine's dad in the Star Trek films is funny … though it's worth noting that the dad is the part you give to the guy with less range, who just has to show up and die. There's a cheesiness to Hemsworth that can be used poorly, and incredibly blandly, in the wrong hands.
Do you remember anything about The Huntsman? Either one? He's not even that funny in The Cabin in the Woods. If anything, that movie plays off his lack of his awareness rather than his knowingness. And he has a tendency to be way too hammy, in both Vacation (in which he seemed to be screaming "Look, I am funny, I swear!") and Ghostbusters, which looks even more confused and listless by the month. He's funny at times, but he's never light. Pine is light.
If we're ranking sci-fi action Chris, it's difficult to argue that No. 3 isn't Evans and No. 4 isn't Pratt. (Pratt loses on Jurassic World alone.) So it's down to Hemsworth and Pine. Hemsworth's Thor is better than Pine's Kirk, no question … but we think Pine just has a little bit more to offer. He's a better sidekick, he's a better leading man, and he's a better comedian. It's close. But Chris Pine is the winner.