The key moment in the acting career of Dwayne Johnson is an obvious one that occurs not very long into The Rundown, the 2003 adventure film that paired him with the intermittently watchable Seann William Scott. As Johnson’s character, a “retrieval expert”, walks into a club to collect one of his charges, Arnold Schwarzenegger, playing himself for all we know, tips his hat to Johnson and simply says, “Have fun.” It’s a blessing, first of all, from the undisputed king of action film braggadocio, but as delivered by the Terminator himself, it’s also a warning, a reminder to not take the blows of his career too seriously, especially in an arduous career that will likely involve getting critically lambasted on the regular despite being popular as all get out.
The funny thing is that Johnson has never seemed to struggle in his career, even when his talents have been used for the childish (Planet 51) or the downright reprehensible (Be Cool). Johnson has a crucial sense of humor that Schwarzenegger simply never had, and he has what I guess you might call grace. When he walks into a room, the entire scene doesn’t automatically become about him, his proportions, or his awkward placing amongst so many, well, smaller people. It’s why he was a more-than-suitable replacement for character actor Joe Don Baker in the Walking Tall remake of 2004, and made for a palatable lead in family friendly fare like Tooth Fairy, Race to Witch Mountain, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, and The Game Plan, even if the films themselves were not.
Sadly, the former pro wrestler hulls out all his talent and charm when he goes serious, such as in Snitch, Faster, Doom, and, to a lesser extent, this week’s San Andreas, but such overtly macho fantasias are ostensibly balanced out by a handful of more audacious projects, some expertly crafted action-comedies, and his exemplary work in the last three Fast & Furious films. Those are the films I wanted to put special attention towards in discussing the action star’s career and where it might be going, especially considering his upcoming, hugely promising HBO series Ballers, and plan to play Black Adam in Shazam, either of which could prove to broaden his already substantial reach as a performer.