With “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” due out this weekend -- the second of four films starring wrestler/actor/all-around charmer Dwayne Johnson to be released in as many months -- we thought this as good a time as any to examine the quadrant-crushing appeal of the man formerly (and, okay, still) known as The Rock.
1. He’s a macho man
As the once-mighty Expendables are individually suffering flop after flop at the box office, the more physically average action hero dominates -- John McClane circa 1988, if not McClane circa the 2000s. Given his initial career in pro wrestling, Johnson maintains something of a bygone physique, but that brawn makes him stand out among the Matt Damons, Ryan Goslings and Gerard Butlers. Plus, an African-Canadian/Samoan heritage certainly broadens his appeal; to white audiences, Johnson seems vaguely exotic, while minorities might feel suitably represented in the spotlight for a change. Until Jason Momoa becomes more of a household name, I’d say that this hulking hero is here to stay.
2. He’s a proven franchise-saver
In keeping with his agreeable action-star status, Johnson has been the consistent savior for many a struggling series. How do you make “Fast Five” alluring to those who weren’t impressed with “Fast & Furious’” reunion of the original cast? Just add Dwayne. “G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA” not exactly a runaway blockbuster? Just add Dwayne. Want to keep “Journey to the Center of the Earth” going without the sheer magnetism of one Brendan Fraser? You know what to do, which reminds me...
3. He’s great with kids
Not only does Johnson cross racial boundaries, he knows broad showmanship from his time in the ring and that talent has served him well in otherwise mediocre-to-dire family entertainments like “Journey 2,” “Race to Witch Mountain,” “Tooth Fairy” and “The Game Plan.” And tell me how he’s not a great role model for your kids. He’s fun without being crude, he’s fit without being intimidating, and in the unlikely overlap between those two defining qualities, he’ll bounce berries off his pecs for the right price. Good luck getting THAT merit badge without his help.
4. He’s almost always the good guy
Yeah, that's a real screenshot from a real movie. In the wake of his big-screen debut in 2001’s “The Mummy Returns,” Johnson inevitably wound up with his own spin-off, 2002’s “The Scorpion King,” in which a “Terminator 2” was pulled and suddenly one film’s villain became another film’s good guy. He’s rarely played a heavy since; his antagonist in the “Fast & Furious” franchise hardly qualifies as evil, and his turncoat role in “Get Smart” doesn’t exactly rival the otherworldly threat (and garish CGI) of the Scorpion King’s reign. Like I said: the man likes to be liked.
5. He’s game for anything
From his against-type turn in 2005’s “Be Cool” to his winking participation in “The Other Guys” (not to mention his game appearances on “Saturday Night Live” as The Rock Obama), Johnson hasn’t been above lampooning his image, and his willingness to sign up for everything from a leading role in Richard Kelly’s batsh*t-crazy “Southland Tales” to a still-puzzling cameo in Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married Too?” suggests that The Rock’s range won’t soon be limited by his superstar status.