So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #079: “Dear Dwayne”

Dear Dwayne,

I know you prefer to be called by your full moniker,  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but I want to speak to the person behind that particular mask. Put the eyebrow down. Send your posse on a 20 minute break. Place your phone on airplane mode, and place it face down on the table in front of us. It’s just you, me, and the millions (AND MILLIONS) of my fans reading this. Cool? Cool. 

You need to stop it. Seriously. C’mon, man. You know what I’m talking about. Really? You’re going to make me say it out loud? Fine.

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

We loved when you dabbled your toe into acting. That turn as your own father in That 70’s Show? Great. Playing an alien version of yourself in Star Trek: Voyager? Uhhh… let’s come back to that.. And hey… your first trip to Saturday Night Live? Pitch perfect. Seriously. Better than any “sports stars” they featured prior. You then took the summers off in 2000 so you could become the Scorpion King (which, I assume was why you were on SNL). Like many fans… I actually went to the theater to catch your first starring role. Because it would either be good, or we’d have something to replace that one flick where Hulk Hogan made a dude crap himself.

And hey. It was fine. 20 something years later? I can’t recall a single scene, line of dialogue, or action sequence. But I do recall you fighting the late Michael Clark Duncan, and thinking it was cool. 

After that? I really want to commend you. You started taking interesting roles. Get Shorty. The Rundown. Walking Tall. Southland Tales. Were you “generic badass tough guy” in most of them? Sure. But the scripts were smart. And because of it, you looked smart. Not just catchphrases and stuntman body slams. Versus previous wrestler-turned-actors — Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Jesse Venture — you seemed to have more depth, better comedic timing, and pathos (when called for). 

Then something changed. Maybe it was the ability for you to really explore PEDs without the pesky WWE wellness policy getting in the way. Maybe it was getting into the pockets of bigger studio producers. Soon enough you were carving out the role you haven’t stopped playing since landing in the Fast & Furious franchise; the role of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. 

And you know what? It wasn’t my bag, Dwayne, but I recognized you were making money and the movies seemingly were hits. You more than met the goal of being solid outside the bosom of Vince McMahon. And you even went one step further. You started producing! Like all great rich Hollywood stars, you decided to start making money behind the camera as much as you were making in front of it. Mazel tov.

So, where did it go wrong exactly? Oh, I’ll tell you. It’s not even hard to suss out. It’s Black Adam. This pet project of yours that you’ve been boasting about since 2014 when you graciously chose to play Teth Adam instead of Billy Batson. What seemingly started here was your slow walk to abject villainy. If Wikipedia is to be believed — which I’d trust over any accounting you might have had — you met with Geoff Johns to discuss the Shazam movie project. You exited that meeting with “both” you and DC deciding to make two movies. Could it be then and there you felt your star power demanded more attention? That Black Adam, a B-List villain nowhere near the zeitgeist, needed more room to grow? 

During the drafting of the screenplay, it became clear of the vision you had for Teth Adam. My guess? You saw Deadpool and decided you could really be cool if you got gory. I wish maybe you’d taken the time to watch Logan so you’d also understand “vulnerability”. But you dug your heels in, and every opportunity you had to mention Black Adam in the coming years leading up to the premiere? You were adamant fans would see depth and darkness that would really resonate with both the fanfolks and the laymuggles.

So, let’s actually discuss what made it to the silver screen. What we got was 125 minutes of EmoMean Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. In the comics, Black Adam’s tepid origin would never have worked. So, dust off a stereotypical father/son “vaguely Middle Eastern” mystical plot-by-numbers (angry pharaohs, slaves, uprisings, sand…) and let the murder spree begin. Black Adam has a singular idea to communicate: “This good guy kills people because he thinks that’s justice.” For 125 minutes, this idea is regurgitated, pontificated, and demonstrated about two dozen times. Oh, and because you like to promote other BIPOC actors? We do get a nice smattering of new multi-racial faces throughout. Kudos, you star-maker.

Black Adam steals liberally from a ton of better action films to duct-tape a popcorn flick together. Shades of Terminator 2, The Mummy (oh, the irony), and a touch of Last Action Hero join the mass of better superhero films out there. And all throughout, you know one of the less-than-stellar things about the movie? It’s you, Dwayne. The “too cool for school” ‘tude you sport throughout the entirety of the film wears thin a few minutes after you’ve murder-death-killed your first cadre of military-clad faceless fodder. And that you did this in a movie that dared to namedrop Intergang (obviously give someone at DC comics an extra fish head in his bucket for sneaking that one in…) and then do absolutely nothing cool with it! For shame. And I see you flipped a coin as to the climax of the movie (skybeam or punch the CGI monster) and it landed on punching. Of course it did. And if I recall, you also decided to cram in some zombies for good measure. Guess you needed to spend every last cent of that $210 million budget.

A sub-par movie with what feels like a phoned-in performance is one thing… but the devil is in the details, Dwayne. It’s been widely reported how you demanded the Superman tag on your movie (“I only fight A listers.”). How you demanded your brand of tequila (which, sorry, I will not buzz market for you) be part of the premiere of Black Adam — in spite of the movie being PG-13. Funny that, given that you might have considered fighting for an R-rating, actually upping the on-screen gore, and you might have gotten more eyes on the flick. But I digress. You also “allegedly” went straight to the top at Warner Brothers to attempt to get your production company a credit for the Super Pet movie in spite of barely doing any press for it, as well as lobby for that aforementioned Superman-or-nothing sequel. The cherry on top of that hubris sundae? How you tweeted about the profitability of Black Adam when it isn’t even amongst the top 50 most lucrative comic book films. Or maybe you’re just proud you got the “Shazam” family into last place when you start tabulating universes

Dwayne… the world fell in love with you not just because of that million dollar smile, or body-by-clangin-and-bangin’. We loved you because you projected humility, humor, and class. With these released stories on top of your recent string of films? You’re slowly falling into becoming merely a caricature. Let’s go back to your role in Star Trek. You played the Pendari Champion — nameless, but clearly just you in some special effects makeup. You snarled. You curled your eyebrow. You performed the Rock Bottom. As part of a whole? It was pitch-perfect. A menacing enemy for Seven to tangle with. But ever since, you’ve positioned yourself in the hero’s role. And as the people’s champion? I’m telling you:

Listen to the people. Hell. Rewatch Moana for Snuka’s sake!

Humility is the key. Hubris is not. Black Adam is a villain whose moral code pushes him into heroism if you squint. But he is not an A-lister. By any stretch of the imagination. To believe your star power could thrust the character into a larger role in the DCU is like putting the Giant Gonzalez in the main event scene. Sure, you might get away with it for a little while… but eventually everyone will see how you can’t hammer the wrong puzzle piece into the board and have it fit perfectly. Had you… ahem… known your role, and shut your mouth? Black Adam could have been the best on screen DC villain ever. You could have smartly played the part, and wound up as the villain in the second Shazam movie, and been something James Gunn could work with. Hell, I would have paid many wads of cash for the eventual scene where John Cena’s Peacemaker yells at Black Adam to come get some, and floating above him you mutter “you can’t see me…” and lightning bolt that toilet seat head into the dirt.

Instead, should you choose not to course-correct, you’ll hoist yourself on your own petard. Disney will run out of jungle movies for you to charismatically punch though, and the only thing you’ll be left with is waddling back to Vince in hopes he books you to lose to Roman Reigns at Backlash. Why not WrestleMania?

Because your star is falling… unless you actually heed the wisdom of Zehuti.