Everyone probably knows about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the former wrestler turned movie star who has become so bankable that he can sell people on a film based on his presence and charisma alone. I saw the trailer for Fast and Furious spinoff Hobbs and Shaw and am looking forward to it, but it made me think about Johnson’s career so far and what I think has been an issue for a while.
This decade he has had a major consistent problem as far as film choices go: None of them have stood out. Apart from his contribution to the Fast and Furious series, all his films have been forgotten about. Is anyone still talking about films such as GI Joe: Retaliation, Central Intelligence or even last year’s Rampage? Even darker roles in Pain and Gain and Snitch and an attempt at an animated musical turn that also saw him embracing his Polynesian heritage in Moana have not had much of an impact on his career. This came to a head with Skyscraper, last year’s Die Hard clone that underperformed for several reasons, the most important one being a combination of Rock fatigue and the aforementioned issue.
Compare him to someone like Dave Bautista or even John Cena. Both became successful actors later than Johnson, yet they have had better careers overall because they have tried to either branch out or embrace one side. Bautista has become a diverse character actor, able to play almost any role possible whilst still appearing in action from time to time. Cena embraced comedy in Blockers and Sisters and has a living reputation as an internet meme. Johnson has attempted to do some different roles (such as his turn as a teenage boy in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), but almost all his characters are just variations on his lovable tough guy persona. That persona is not a bad one to have, but it does limit him from being diverse or full commitment. He can’t have a different persona, but even that persona will not let him be too tough or too likeable. It’s a middle ground that does not work, especially when he chooses such middling material.
Whilst his persona has been compared to that of the classic action stars like Schwarzenegger or Stallone, those actors have appeared in classically good or memorably cheesy cinema. Johnson has nothing as awesomely excessive as Commando on his resume, neither does he have a classic drama series like Rocky. Even Jean-Claude Van Damme, someone who never gained that same amount of credit, appeared in JCVD and perfectly played up his image for laughs and drama. If he only wants to do general audience friendly action junk, they must stand the test of time. Tom Cruise mainly does action, but he has both a drama like Magnolia and an acclaimed series like Mission: Impossible in his filmography; two films that any film fanatic has probably seen and enjoyed.
It’s also interesting to compare this decade’s output with his career in the 2000’s. Whilst he had more flops his output felt diverse and unpredictable. He did action, drama, comedy, animation and live-action Disney. It’s telling when Southland Tales, Richard Kelly’s career killing flop, is still being talked about whilst San Andreas has faded into obscurity. The reason why is because despite being a giant mess, it was noteworthy, as well as being a film that showed him trying to play a unique character. His infamous hand twitching may have been goofy, but I’d take that over his tough guy stare, smile or one-liners that he dishes out in every film.
I’d like to see him do something that will get both critical and audience acclaim, or just try and take risks in his filmography. Also, he should work with directors who will push him as an actor. Cast him in a Denis Villeneuve, Paul Thomas Anderson or even Edgar Wright film and this might happen. I’m anticipating all three of his releases this year, but afterwards he should probably try and take his career in a more interesting direction.