Duke Nukem Forever went from being one of the industry’s most anticipated games to being a laughing stock, all in the space of just 14 years. Now, it might be set to make another leap, as Paramount Pictures is reportedly discussing taking Duke to the big screen, with WWE superstar John Cena in the lead role.
We’ve been hearing rumours about a Duke Nukem movie since shortly after the character first appeared in 1991. One, floated in the late 1990s by producer Lawrence Kasanoff, would see aliens invading Duke’s favourite strip club. That one didn’t pass pre-production, but Kasanoff proposed another film idea in 2001, which also sank. A few years later, Scott Faye, who produced the cinematic adaptation of Max Payne, announced in 2008 that he had plans for a Duke movie of his own, but things didn’t seem to progress any further than the planning stage.
Then – at E3 2017 – nearly a decade later, and well after the (eventual) release of Duke Nukem Forever, Randy Pitchford hinted that a Duke Nukem film was being worked on with Gearbox Software. Could this be the one Cena wants to be attached to?
As with all video game movie news stories, we have very few details to work with at this stage. There is no writer attached, no director, and absolutely nobody’s signed up to step in front of the camera just yet. However, Cena is reportedly “in talks” to star in the action extravaganza – fresh from providing the voice for the title role in Ferdinand. (Cena has also appeared in live-action films Trainwreck, 12 Rounds, Legendary, both Daddy’s Home releases, and the wonderful self-indulgence of The Marine, if you’re unfamiliar with his cinematic work.)
Variety writes that the project is happening at Platinum Dunes, a production company that has worked with Paramount since 2009. This means that the only real names that are attached to the project are those who work with Platinum Dunes – founders Brad Fuller, Andrew Form and the one and only Michael Bay. The studio has previously focussed primarily on horror film reboots (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, the 2009 Friday the 13th and 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street), but has since shifted into something very different, including the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, TV series Black Sails, The Last Ship and Jack Ryan, and …um… the upcoming live-action adaptation of Dora The Explorer (no, really).
I’m not even going to touch on whether or not WWE Superstar John Cena is anything like the right star to pick up the big guns. Since the first time Duke Nukem spoke, his voice has been provided by radio DJ Jon St John (who we spoke to back in 2014!). Could the Duke really be The King without his dulcet tones?
…but even if we ignore all the flashing red lights that accompany the film adaptation of a popular video game, a Duke Nukem movie throws up plenty of its own. Duke is a caricature, a cigar-chomping redneck who loves his guns almost as much as he loves his ladies. He was (adorably?) offensive enough in the 90s, but 25 years later, needs to be handled with a certain care to avoid being taken too seriously.
Duke needs to know he’s out of place in modern society. He needs to be obviously placed as a parody, as an old-fashioned, beer-chugging, womanising super-macho man who does not belong in 2018. Maybe paired up with a straight-talking female character who doesn’t put up with his crap…?
…but – let’s face it – Hollywood isn’t good at doing nuanced, subtle, clever video game movies. The industry is good at taking a shoot-em-up and turning it into, well, a shoot-em-up. If someone picks up Duke Nukem and translates him blow-by-blow (no pun intended) into a straight, ultra-violent action gun-fest, this one is gonna flop quicker than, well, Duke Nukem Forever.