John Cena needs to just walk away from this ill-timed idea.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Platinum Dunes, the Paramount-based production company co-owned by Michael Bay, is adapting the Duke Nukem video games for the big screen. And wrestler-turned-actor John Cena is in talks to play the title character, a muscular, action tough guy who spends his time spouting movie references, saving the planet from aliens, and being a womanizing bastion of toxic masculinity.
The Duke Nukem games have a long and storied history. The first one was released in 1991, but the series did not find widespread success until the third, Duke Nukem 3D, which was praised by critics and fans alike for its inventive level design and competitive single and multiplayer modes. Duke Nukem Forever, the fourth and final game in the main series, became notorious for its whopping 14-year production time, after promo information was released in 1998 and then the actual game wasn’t released until 2011.
But that’s not the only thing for which the Duke Nukem series has faced some pushback. Every one of the games has drawn ire from women’s rights groups who point out that many of the objectives in the game revolve around the objectification and abuse of women — the only female characters in the games are young, attractive, and classified as “babes”, and Duke Nukem 3D infamously features a mode where you must abduct women and give them a “reassuring slap” if they resist.
While the games’ questionable content has often been chalked up as a satire of action B-movies and old-school heroes, one must wonder how a game level solely devoted to a wall made of disembodied breasts fits into the series’ “deeper meaning.”
Bay is a director with a similarly creepy history of mistreating and objectifying the women he hires (lest we forget that Megan Fox’s Transformers audition revolved around her going to Bay’s house and washing his car while he watched). So he may be the perfect person to adapt a series so devoted to degrading women that even its 2011 iteration includes a whole level where its hero is cracking quips while murdering pregnant women.
What will the movie actually be about? It could have some material based solely on the Duke Nukem series’ commitment to making movie references. The games include dialogue alluding to a range of films, mostly action thrillers like Sudden Impact and Scarface but also anything from The Sixth Sense to They Live, even Forrest Gump.
Perhaps the most confusing question of all is why would Cena, a rising movie star in his own right with roles in popular films such as Trainwreck and Daddy’s Home, take a role so woefully stuck in the past, especially when attached to someone like Bay? Maybe the movie will take a different route from the games. Maybe the limits of satire will be stretched to their breaking point. Seeing as the project has yet to find a director or even writers, we can’t know for sure just yet.