Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but WWE legend and Hollywood action movie star is going to play our favorite video game character on the big screen. If you’re getting a strong feeling of deja vu as you read this, we’re not surprised. This isn’t the first time that Cena has been linked with playing the Duke, and we’ve all got our hopes up about this in the past only to have them dashed when the stories aren’t followed up by any sign of the film entering production. This time, however, there might be cause for cautious optimism.
The first time we heard of Cena signing on the dotted line to play the character was two years ago. Back then, the news was presented as a done deal, and work on the film was expected to start immediately. Although not everybody was thrilled with the prospect of Cena in the lead role, it’s easy to see why the producers made the decision. Cena is a muscle-bound larger-than-life individual with a sharp wit and a fine repertoire of one-liners. He’s even been known to sport the distinctive flat-top hairstyle in the past. There aren’t many actors who have the physique to play the role convincingly, and as much as we love the character, it doesn’t exactly require a classically-trained Shakespearean pro to pull it off. For the majority of people, Cena was the perfect call.
Perhaps we should have known better than to expect too much at the time. While Andrew Form and Brad Fuller had been confirmed as the movie’s producers, Cena was announced before a script had even been completed. They were excited about their new project, and they’d intimated that they were going to use the tone of the “Deadpool” films as their inspiration, but they hadn’t got much further than that. You can’t put a film in front of the cameras without a script, and perhaps writing that script took the pair much longer than anyone could have imagined. There would have been pitfalls on the way to writing it, too – almost no big-budget movies based on video games have been good, and the public’s perception of them is never great even if the script holds up. Cena needs only ask his wrestler-turned-actor buddy Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson about his experience with “Doom” to discover that.
So, what’s changed between then and now? Why do we believe that after two years in the notorious state of ‘development Hell,’ the project is finally moving forward? The answer to that question is that well-placed insiders with strong track records for breaking film news have both independently confirmed that they’ve heard positive news about the film. Daniel Richtman says it’s happening, and so does journalist Caleb Williams. The reputable website We Got This Covered also says that the ball has started to roll, so that’s three sources all saying the same thing. There’s a frustrating lack of detail other than the vague sense that things are ‘progressing,’ but if three sources have all heard something and are confident enough to put it in writing, it’s a fair bet that things are going on behind the scenes in Hollywood.
Aside from reporting the news, We Got This Covered has indulged in a healthy dose of speculation. They think that the recent success of the ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ movie might have given the producers (and, presumably, the studio behind them) that films based on video games can be a success, and the popularity of the ‘Detective Pikachu’ film won’t’ have hurt in that regard either. There’s also the increasing bankability of John Cena to consider along with that. Cena was better known as a wrestler than an actor two years ago, but he’s done a lot of movie work since then and is now known and accepted by a wider audience. Just the fact that it’s a John Cena movie should persuade people to pay money to come and see it. The fact that Duke Nukem is an old property with a limited audience shouldn’t matter. The producers intend to make a film that will be accessible to people who’ve never played a Duke Nukem game in their lives. That’s probably the best way to go with it.
For all his movie success, Cena was on Jimmy Kimmel recently and said that he doesn’t consider his in-ring career with WWE to be over. He’s still loosely associated with the company and will be appearing for them in virtual form when they release a series of WWE-themed online slots to websites like Dove Casino later on this year. Cena is one of a select number of hand-picked WWE legends to receive their own online slots, and the fact that the company still uses him in this way despite the fact that he’s only wrestled once in the past year says a lot about his appeal. They’re not making online slots for half of the wrestlers who are currently on their active roster, so the shadow of Cena still looms large in WWE. There’s still no sign of the Duke Nukem online slots game we were promised years ago, but that’s a different matter.
There are obvious issues with filming movies in the current climate, so even if these new stories about the project getting the green light are true, it might still be a while before we see any sign of anything being filmed. Until we do, we’ll continue to take stories like this with a pinch of salt on the grounds that we’ve been let down before. We have reservations about Duke Nukem becoming a film. The games are great, but even the biggest Duke Nukem fans would have to admit that there isn’t much in the way of plot to them – or at least not a plot that would be sufficient to hold together a ninety-minute-long film. We assume that Cena will be given a chance to flesh out and modernize the character, but that modernization might turn off some of the core audience. Duke Nukem can’t talk or act the way he did in the 1990s here in 2020. It wouldn’t be socially acceptable for him to do so. We hope that this film does the character justice, but we’ll be watching on nervously until we see some evidence that suggests it will.