The Duke Nukem film is still a go, and its producers, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller, are preparing to tackle the hurdles ahead of bringing one of gaming’s most iconic and unlikeable figures to the silver screen.
The first of those obstacles seems to be cleared, as the two confirmed to CinemaBlend the validity of earlier reports that WWE mainstay John Cena is on board to portray the hyper-masculine hero. “Yeah, that’s what we’re working with now. He is. Yes,” said Form. “We don’t have a script yet, so that is confirmed at this point but if he reads the script and he doesn’t like the script I’m sure there’s ways that he could pull out, but right now he’s our guy.” It still feels like an odd choice for the wish-granting king to take on such a role, but Cena has shown more flexibility in his character work during his recent cinematic excursions beyond the WWE.
With a real-life Duke onboard, Form and Fuller have turned their attention to determining how a Duke Nukem film could fit into a culture that left the character in the rearview mirror almost 20 years ago. The last time Nukem appeared in his own game was the running joke come to life Duke Nukem Forever, a game that took a character that many were beholden to in the ‘90s and threw a spotlight on every single aspect of the character that didn’t culturally translate to 2011.
Form and Fuller are not blind to the challenge of taking a notoriously misogynistic character like Duke and finding the likeability within, and they are looking to a successful iteration of a hero with what they see as similar characteristics: Deadpool. “It’s going to be about tone. That’s about tone. How do you nail that tone in the way that Deadpool nailed the tone? I think we have to do that and if we don’t get the tone right then we’re not going to make the movie,” said Form. The cinematic debut of the “Merc with a Mouth” broke box office records in 2016 while maintaining the distinct mix of goofiness, sex positivity and violence that spoke to the hero’s loyal fanbase.
While that film is a good example of how to tonally translate a controversial hero between media forms, it might not prove to be a great example of comparison for the Duke Nukem producers—the only similarity between the two characters is the violence presented in their products. Wade Wilson is not a misogynist, hyperbolic satire of masculinity that never gets its point across because of how likable large parts of the videogame community find him. Duke is.
Fuller and Form will have a lot of work to parse exactly what kind of Duke they want to present in their film if they want any of the character’s critics to give a new Duke product a shot. They at least realize that: “You know that having a misogynistic guy in today’s world, how do you make that fun and lovable and at the same time he’s got to be an incredible badass, so those are the things that we’re struggling with and we’re going to try and come out with what I hope is a really fun ride.”