It’s time once again to go on a Film Journey, and today we’ll be taking a look through selected highlights of the career of American actor Dwayne Johnson. Nowadays you’ll be likely to recognise that name, but if I also said that he used to go by his pseudonym of The Rock then you’re sure to know who I mean.
Johnson initially found fame as a wrestler, (which is where his nickname comes from), and made the transition into acting from there. His first major film role was as The Scorpion King in the 2002 film of the same name, (it was part of THE MUMMY franchise), for which he was paid a reported $5.5 million dollars, setting a world record for an actor in his first staring role. He’s made a lot of movies since then and whilst he’s generally known for popcorn-action movies, I thought it might be a nice idea to pick a few films that break him out of that role and show a different side to the actor.
FILM ONE: SKYSCRAPER (2018)
Our first film is SKYSCRAPER (2018) and it’s un UK cinemas from tomorrow, the 12th July. The longline for this movie is undeniably simple: A father goes to great lengths to save his family from a burning skyscraper; but the plot is a little more convoluted than that.
Johnson plays Will Sawyer who was an FBI hostage rescue team leader, a US war veteran and is now a security consultant for large buildings including, you’ve guessed it, skyscrapers. Whilst on assignment in Hong Kong he finds himself, and his family, in the tallest, safest building in the worlds; however it’s suddenly ablaze and he’s being framed for it. He needs to find who’s responsible, clear his name and rescue his family. And he only has 102 minutes to do it in.
The inspirations for the movie are fairly obvious, DIE HARD and A TOWERING INFERNO are both clearly be felt in this movie. It’s a great popcorn action movie and the type of film Johnson is very well known for.
FILM TWO: MOANA (2016)
Our second film today is something I hope helps you to see Dwayne Johnson a little differently; it’s Disney’s MOANA from 2016. This animated family film is an utter delight to watch, it’s fast-paced, packed with fun, a powerful message of responsibility and some great songs – including one sung by Johnson himself.
The main thrust of the story is quite pure: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by the Demigod Maui reaches Moana’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the Demigod to set things right.
Dwayne plays Maui, the accent Demigod and, true to Johnson’s now famous cinematic on-screen persona, Maui is initially played as somewhat tongue-in-cheek self-serving and arrogant; learning to better himself as he comes to respect the responsibility he has.
So it’s a family film with a great message; Moana is probably the first Disney animated film to feature an empowered female lead character who isn’t a princess or a damsel in distress. She doesn’t need saving by a male character; she actually gets temporarily abandoned by Johnsons Maui and still continues to set off on her own to finish her quest.
It’s a testament to Disney’s continued commitment to addressing the gender imbalance and gender stereotyping on screen these days. The way Disney do it doesn’t always work. A lot of thought is still needed when it comes to their output, so I’m pleased to see someone like Johnson playing a goofy character and also using his platform to promote a movie about a girl, especially given his ‘tough-guy’ persona. It’s a bit of a shame that in some promotional interviews at the time of the films’ release he made jokes about crying what he called “manly tears” during the film, (I’m unsure exactly what a manly tear is and how it differs from any other tear), but that aside it’s a great cheeky performance and one that plays very definitely against type for Johnson.
FILM THREE: JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2017)
Our final choice for today is one that combines the three things Johnson has become known for and put them all together in that rare type film … a sequel that is superior to the original. Our last film is JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE from 2017.
I’ll probably get some flack for saying this is a better film that the original, given how the first JUMANJI from 1995 with a cracking performance from Robin Williams, is beloved by so many. If you watch them side-by-side however, you’ll find that the original hasn’t aged well and that this new movie is actually more fun.
With that in mind, here’s the deal : Four teenagers are sucked into a magical video game, and the only way they can escape is to work together to finish the game. Johnson plays Spencer as the video-game character Dr Smoulder Bravestone; the central conceit being that Spencer in real life is a slight, insecure teenager who’s mum wont let him leave the house without an inhaler and an anti-poison shot, whereas Dr Smoulder Bravestone is a square-jawed, muscle pumped all-action hero ready to save the day time and time again.
The message that you can be confident in your own abilities and comfortable in your own skin by believing in yourself, no matter how you look, is very evident throughout but still without being cumbersome.
The Fast & The Furious franchise
Race To Witch Mountain
The Game Plan