Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Sequels

dwayne-johnsonDwayne Johnson’s had five movies out this year. They’ve ranged from one of the year’s biggest hits (Fast & Furious 6) to a straight-to-DVD film you probably never noticed (Empire State). I’ve been a fan of his acting for some time now, he’s a born performer, but he’s unfortunately not been in a great deal of particularly good films. He first started acting in films in the early 2000s, at around the time when Arnold Schwarzenegger was quitting to go into politics. He seemed like the natural successor to Arnie, with his first starring role, The Scorpion King bearing many similarities to Arnie’s breakthrough, Conan the Barbarian. I recall reading a magazine article at the time assessing who would be the next cinematic action hero and concluding that he was the most likely (though it also said Jason Statham was the least likely so what did they know). He started off alright but made the move to drama (Gridiron Gang, Richard Kelly’s misunderstood spectacular Southland Tales) and family comedy (Tooth Fairy) without having really established a body of action cinema. In 2010 he got back into action films with Faster and Fast Five, and his star just seems to have been growing since then, but the films have still been mixed. I hope he’s not destined to just be someone who’s always good in average movies. Anyway, the actual point of this article, is that there’s been an unusual trait throughout his acting career; that of appearing in sequels to films when he wasn’t in the original. I’ve heard him referred to as ‘franchise Viagra’ a few times (he may have coined that himself) but is that really the case? Let’s have a look.

the mummy returns

The Mummy Returns (2001)

Johnson’s big screen debut was little more than a glorified cameo really. He appears as mythical warrior ‘The Scorpion King’ in the opening prologue but is all CGI in the climactic fight. His appearance here really only served to set up the Scorpion King Spin-off prequel, which was fairly average.

Was it an improvement?

No. The Mummy Returns is a fun but stupid movie that gets bogged down by its mythology and isn’t as enjoyable as its 1999 predecessor.

be cool2

Be Cool (2005)

A decade-later sequel to the excellent Elmore Leonard adaptation Get Shorty, this crime-comedy finds Chili Palmer (John Travolta) entering the music industry. Travolta re-unites with Pulp Fiction’s Uma Thurman and leads a large, starry ensemble cast.

Was it an improvement?

Absolutely not. Be Cool is a pretty terrible film that’s vastly inferior to Get Shorty. However, Johnson’s small role playing Elliot, a gay Samoan bodyguard and aspiring actor, is by far and away the best thing in the film.

witch-mountain

Race to Witch Mountain (2009)

This family film from Disney functioned as both a sequel and a remake/reboot to the 1975 film Escape to Witch Mountain, about a pair of kids with psychic powers (which had already had a couple of sequels). Johnson plays a cab driver who gets wound up in the plot as two young passengers of his turn out to be aliens.

Was it an improvement?

Probably? I haven’t seen the original in years but don’t remember it being particularly good. This isn’t an outstanding film by any means but it’s a serviceable kid’s sci-fi movie.

Fast 5

Fast Five (2011)

Johnson joins the gang for this wildly successful fifth instalment, which rejuvenated the action franchise and focussed it on heist stories. He plays secret service agent Luke Hobbs, who’s hot on the tail of the central crew.

Was it an improvement?

Yes. Though overpraised, overlong and overblown, Fast Five is undoubtedly an improvement, and Johnson’s amusing turn as agent Hobbs is a most welcome addition.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012)

Johnson’s Mummy Returns co-star Brendan Fraser chose not to appear in the sequel to his Jules Verne update Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), leaving the door open for Johnson to come in as the stepfather to Josh Hutcherson’s character as he embarks on another adventure.

Was it an improvement?

Mildly, neither film is particularly good but they’re functional family adventure films. Johnson makes a likeable action-comedy lead but Hutcherson is always very irritating. It was a commercial success though, outperforming its predecessor.

g-i-joe-retaliation

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

Johnson takes over the lead from Channing Tatum (who also appears briefly) for this ludicrous follow up to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. He plays Roadblock, a member of the G.I. Joe unit who has to thwart some world-threatening plot by the imposter president.

Was it an improvement?

Not really, the first film wasn’t good but this is another case of Johnson being perfectly fine in a film that’s not. He’s suited to the part and gets to work with Bruce Willis but it’s a big, stupid action film that soon becomes quite tedious, utterly forgettable stuff.

furious 6

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

So he was in the previous film in the series but I’m still counting this. Johnson makes an excellent return as unorthodox agent Luke Hobbs, who this time recruits the gang to take on another one. This enjoyably ridiculous movie managed to be even more successful than the fifth instalment.

Was it an improvement?

Most definitely, and Johnson played no small part in that. See my review from earlier this year for my take on it.

So really the conclusion here is that while presence of his Rockness is usually a gratifying addition to a film, it does not always result in the sequel being an improvement. He’s got two films on the slate for next year, a big headlining role in Hercules: The Thracian Wars, and Fast & Furious 7, but also just announced a couple of more interesting sounding projects, Seal Team 666 and Not Without Hope. Let’s see if he can manage to spend a bit more time being a good performer in good movies.

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2 thoughts on “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Sequels

  1. I love the Rock! It sucks that he’s already getting kind of old as he’s finally becoming more popular, I’d hate to see him wind up like Jackie Chan, though I guess he’s still got another 10 years before he’s forced to play “grizzled veteran” exclusively. I like to imagine that there’s some sort of rivalry between him and Vin Diesel, since they both seem to fill the same roles in movies.

    • Yeah I think he’s still young enough to produce a good few years’ worth of action movies if he wants. I imagine he’s mates with Vin Diesel since Fast Five but you’re right their careers have been quite similar, The Rock’s got way more range and charisma as an actor though.

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