Think of the most unnecessary, tone-deaf, badly timed property that you could possibly try developing into a movie right now.
If you thought of Duke Nukem then congratulations! You win the prize! The prize is fuck you they’re making a Duke Nukem movie.
‘They’ in this case being Paramount. Or, more specifically, Michael Bay’s Paramount-based production company Platinum Dunes, according to a report in Variety. John Cena is in talks to star as the eponymous hero.
If you happen to be unfamiliar with Duke Nukem, then you probably didn’t play videogames in the 90’s. The Duke Nukem games started out as 2D platformers in 1991 before transitioning to 3D first-person shooters. The series’ first shooter iteration, 1996’s ‘Duke Nukem 3D’ was at the time a pretty big deal in the still-nascent videogame world. Alongside ‘Doom’ and ‘Wolfenstein 3D’ it was responsible for bringing the FPS (first person shooter) genre to prominence in the medium. ‘Duke Nukem 3D’ also happened to make a big bang on the scene because of its tone. Unlike its contemporaries, which were heavily focused on the action and gore side of things, ‘Duke Nukem 3D’ also heaped in heavy doses of humour and sexually provocative imagery. I say ‘humour’ and ‘sexually provocative imagery’ and I mean the mid-90’s pubescent male’s idea of what those things mean.
When ‘Duke Nukem 3D’ came out, I was exactly its boneheaded pubescent male target demographic, so the toilet humour and cheap titillation on display was right up my alley. Duke himself was a big, blonde, muscle-clad actiontwat, obsessed with his crotch and regressive to the point of parody. Which he maybe was meant to be? It was hard to tell. Whatever, we didn’t really care that much about whatever meta-commentary might be buried underneath. We were focused on the surface. Scantily-clad pixelated ladies, exploding aliens, foul language, and dim-witted action quips. ‘What’s not to love?!’, a generation of us thought.
And then we grew up, and the world—albeit slowly, painfully slowly—grew up with us. Duke Nukem made a comeback in the videogame world in 2011 in ‘Duke Nukem Forever’, but by then that game’s protracted development had become an industry joke, having been in gestation for so many years so as to lose any relevance whatsoever. And it wasn’t just industry relevance it had lost. Duke came back to us almost two decades after we last saw him, and he brought with him his era-displaced uber-macho swagger, as well as his pathological objectification of women. Even with grown-up eyes it was impossible to tell whether or not the creators were intending for it all to be a satire or not. At this point it didn’t even matter. ‘Duke Nukem’ was a series out of time, and its hero a lunkheaded symbol of something we were trying to put behind us. He should have stayed buried.
And now here we are in 2018. I’m not sure if Platinum Dunes have noticed, but there are things happening. All over the world, but with their Hollywood backyard as a potent flashpoint especially, there is a movement growing. A reckoning building. The world (well, men, anyway—women have always known) is finding out just how rotten the halls of power built by men are. Women are rising up. There is a a revolution of consciousness underway, and the road only leads forward. This is a time for revelation, for nuanced discussion, and for a drastic redistribution of power. I’m not sure I can think of a worse time for bringing Duke Nukem back into play.
Here’s the thing: I really like John Cena. He seems like a genuinely nice dude with his heart in the right place. He’s proven himself a pretty competent and funny actor too. And we don’t know anything about what this movie will become—there’s no writer or director attached as of yet. Who knows, it may become the wildly entertaining yet hyper-aware, smart satire of toxic masculinity that the game series saw itself as. Maybe they’ll have Duke, out of place and time, butting heads with the nature of the world that he now finds himself in. A world trying to be better, in which many are fighting to give a voice to the people who for too long have been silenced. And maybe after first resisting and insisting things go on as they always have, good old Duke, as a proxy for all men, learns to sit down and shut the fuck up and to listen, and it all becomes a witty and timely piece of colourful satire. Cena could likely pull that off, given the right material.
Call me a cynic, but it doesn’t seem likely that that’s the way this project will head.
But even assuming that unlikely turn of events does come to pass, I don’t think it’s too unfair to say: Don’t. Platinum Dunes, just don’t. Satire is a powerful, valuable force, but it requires the right agent. A timely method of delivery. Duke Nukem is the opposite of that. He carries too much baggage*. Let him fade away into irrelevance. We need new stories and new heroes, now more than ever.
*That hearty chuckle you just heard there was Duke, amused at the claim that he carries too much baggage. He’s now prepping a ‘that’s what she said’ joke. I rest my case.