After years of uncertainty and false starts, it seems like the long-rumored Duke Nukem movie is finally getting put together over at Paramount. The studio sounds serious about the project, as they’re already circling the film’s lead. John Cena, the 25-time WWE championship-winning wrestler-turned-actor, is in talks to play Duke Nukem. This, of course, is folly.
There is a litany of reasons why Paramount might want Cena in the film’s title role — he is, after all, one of the most popular professional wrestlers of all time, and there’s a certain allure to bringing such strong name recognition to a video game movie (a historically troubled genre). After all, the fanbase Cena has accrued over his years in the ring is devout, not only because they respect his skillset as a wrestler, but because he’s so good at playing the good guy. That’s a skill that almost certainly won’t translate to Duke Nukem, but it’s hardly the only reason why a talent like Cena won’t be able to carry the film to success.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of John Cena’s presumed involvement in the Duke Nukem movie, let’s slow it down for a second and talk about what exactly Duke Nukem is. After all, the series doesn’t have the kind of cultural cache is used to — and perhaps that’s for the best.
The first Duke Nukem video game was released by Apogee Software in 1991 as a PC-only side-scrolling 2D shooter. All told, the game was innocuous. A pixelated Duke trudges through levels, mowing down aliens and snagging any power-ups in his wake. The same could be said for 1993’s Duke Nukem II, which retained the 2D stylings of its predecessor, though with some enhanced graphics. The franchise changed radically just three years later with Duke Nukem 3D.
When Duke Nukem 3D was released, it was nothing short of revelatory. For starters, it was the first Duke Nukem game to get the 3D first-person shooter treatment. Once again, Duke was tearing through levels and gunning down aliens, but this time the game looked and felt a lot like id Software’s Doom, a game many consider to be the most influential shooter of all time, but with a uniquely ‘90s tone. And compared to Doom, Duke Nukem 3D wasn’t just talky, it was downright lewd.
For starters, the eponymous Duke Nukem had opinions, which he voiced liberally, a stark change from Doom’s silent protagonist and a technical achievement for the time. The game’s weapons were profoundly atypical, including everything from a shrink ray to a weighty kick, which was used for melee combat. Duke Nukem 3D also had a slimy, down-to-earth vibe that permeated every inch of the alien-infested urban wasteland. The dialogue wasn’t terribly memorable, nor did it provide any kind of sprawling narrative for Duke or establish his mission, but the one-liners (like “I’m Duke Nukem, and I’m coming to get the rest of you alien bastards” and “blow it out your ass”) were ludicrous enough to endear players to the character, and the level design was unique compared to other games at the time.
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