Anghus Houvouras is suffering from Dwayne Johnson franchise fatigue…
We spend so much time analyzing franchises. That’s mainly because they make up such a high percentage of blockbuster cinema. If you look at the top 10 films of 2017 globally, only two films don’t fall under the franchise tag: The Boss Baby, an animated family film that is as close to the formulaic world of franchises as any movie can get and the Japanese anime Your Name. Everything else is a franchise film fare.
While discussing the bombs of 2017, Baywatch was brought up. The film drowned quickly at the box office and was universally panned. Like any good armchair pundit, we tried to assign blame for the failure. Most attributed the failure to poor marketing or the fact that Baywatch isn’t exactly a brand that audiences were hoping to see adapted to the big screen. The more I thought about, I started to wonder if audiences are suffering from franchise fatigue with Dwayne Johnson.
I know, Dwayne Johnson is a person. He’s not a cinematic universe like Disney, Marvel, or Star Wars. Or is he?
Dwayne Johnson has appeared in dozens of feature films and television shows. I doubt I could recall a single character from any of his last 20 features. I know he was Maui in Moana because my children watch it 1800 times a week (You’re Welcome) and if I remember correctly his character was named Beck in The Rundown because I love that movie. Every other movie he’s been in has a lead character with a name as ultimately forgettable as the plot of the movie.
Since 2003’s The Rundown, Dwayne Johnson has had major or starring roles in 27 films, with 11 more in production or having been announced. Of those films, 19 of them are either an established franchise or a known property adapted for the big screen with franchise aspirations. That means if you’ve watched a movie with Dwayne Johnson there’s a 70% chance you’re watching a franchise movie. There’s also a 14% chance you’re watching a Fast & Furious movie.
I like Dwayne Johnson, but I’m puzzled by the pace of his output. There’s barely a moment in the last five years where he hasn’t been constantly in the entertainment news cycle either promoting a new film or attaching himself to others. You can’t begrudge the man’s drive. He’s obviously extremely committed to his career, but am I the only one thinking maybe the guy could pump the brakes a few times? 2017 has already seen Johnson in one bona fide super smash (Fate of the Furious) and one complete meltdown (Baywatch). I’m guessing Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle will probably fall somewhere between the two in terms of critical and financial success.
As a ticket buying movie-going guy, I’m suffering from franchise fatigue with Dwayne Johnson. Not only because he only seems to take on less-than-challenging franchise blockbusters, but because he himself has become the personification of this formulaic chum bucket we find ourselves swimming in. Dwayne Johnson just doesn’t star in franchise films; he is a franchise. Dwayne Johnson is the human franchise. A moment of brand singularity where person and persona merge to form a four quadrant monster.
The Johnson Cinematic Universe. That’s what he’s become. His name on the poster seems far more important than the title crammed underneath. We could just stop giving them names and start calling them DWAYNE JOHNSON followed by a number. So in 2018, you won’t be seeing Rampage or Skyscraper, you’ll be seeing DWAYNE JOHNSON 25 followed by DWAYNE JOHNSON 26.
I suppose you could say the same thing about Schwarzenegger or Stallone in the 1980’s, but I can name movies with those popular matinée idols that had things memorable about them other than the marquee name. Arnold has classics like Terminator and Predator. Stallone had Rocky and First Blood. What films has Dwayne Johnson done that will forever be remembered as classics? Right now the only film from Johnson’s resume I’ve watched more than once is The Rundown. If I was forced to pick out a second performance to list as ‘arguably awesome’ I’d go with his brief but memorable appearance in the first eight minutes of The Other Guys.
Saying that out loud feels weird when discussing someone who is considered be one of the biggest box office draws in the world. 27 movies, almost all of them completely forgettable and the future isn’t looking much better. It’s strange that Johnson doesn’t seem to seek out smaller projects from time to time. The “One for me, One for them” strategy that some major motion picture stars indulge seems ignored by Johnson. Maybe he’s only interested in huge, $100+ million productions. It’s not like the major action stars of yesteryear were bending over backwards to do independent films. Though some would argue that doing the occasional indie (like Pulp Fiction) kept Bruce Willis a major star into the 2000’s while his peers’ box office success dwindled.
If I have a point, it’s this; Dwayne Johnson stars in to many franchise films. AND, the man has done so few films of merit. There’s no defining role or film in his 15 year career. Every film he makes is so formulaic and similar that they begin to bleed into one another. Plus, with the frequency of new films featuring Johnson he himself has become a franchise.
I’m still a fan Dwayne Johnson. Half of my frustration comes from the fact that it feels like he could be doing more and yet less; more quality films and fewer blockbusters that aren’t a challenge to Johnson as a performer or for an audience. Where is Dwayne Johnson’s Rocky? Or his Predator? Or Terminator? And I have to be careful here, because I’m not telling Johnson to do a Rocky, Predator, or Terminator movie. Though I’m guessing at some point he’s been approached about at least two of those three franchises. Where is Dwayne Johnson’s masterpiece of action cinema? Or an unexpected collaboration that yields amazing results. Yes, Southland Tales was a disaster on many levels, but he’s in an entirely different league now. Surely there are young, talented, excited filmmakers that could help Johnson evolve into the movie star he seems capable of being.
I want to be excited about the next Dwayne Johnson film. Not relegated to a sigh every time I see his name attached to San Andreas 2 or Rampage. Sorry, I meant DWAYNE JOHNSON 24 and DWAYNE JOHNSON 25.