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All Hail the New Beef King

A torch was handed on the 96th Academy Awards. I communicate not of Cillian Murphy’s establishing himself because the main man du jour, or Christopher Nolan’s ascendancy right into a Spielberg-like box-office auteur, and even Ryan Gosling’s uncanny capability to discover a brand-new solution to be sizzling. No, as an alternative, the Oscars proved, as soon as once more, that America is able to sustaining the recognition of precisely one ludicrously jacked former wrestler at a time, and in 2024 his title is John Cena. That is horrible information for Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, who had a formidable run with the belt however is now relegated to second place.

You possible keep in mind Cena’s look on the Academy Awards. It occurred within the midst of the present’s doldrums, when the technical achievements should be honored and momentum grinds to a halt. The producers usually provide you with a gimmick or two to maintain the viewers engaged, and this 12 months their answer was for Cena to current the Oscar for costume design whereas garishly nude, sporting solely a pair of Birkenstock sandals. The entire bit recalled a well-known incident in Oscars historical past wherein a streaker ran throughout the stage behind David Niven in the course of the 1974 present, and Cena reprised the position completely. He reduce the identical silhouette as he has within the wrestling ring for a lot of the previous 20 years: oily and large in an oddly cuddly approach, with deltoids the dimensions of most individuals’s waists. Cena nailed a few straightforward punchlines and bought a counterfeit humiliation about his predicament—despite the fact that there isn’t a doubt that he seemed higher bare than 98 % of the attendees.

Evaluate that to the Rock, additionally attending the present as a presenter, who mumbled a couple of toothless traces about cinema being a “international language” to preamble the Worldwide Characteristic class, alongside a flimsy joke about his co-presenter, Unhealthy Bunny. It clunked within the room and on TV, which is the proper corollary for the Rock’s present station within the enterprise of superstar. The jig is up: Cena is youthful, hunkier, and unblemished by the deleterious forces of overexposure, and his protecting brand-conscious instincts haven’t gnarled to the purpose that he would decline a streaker bit on nationwide tv. As such, he’s about to take all the Rock’s roles.

There has not been a single second in American historical past when two imports from the WWE have shared equal dominion over Hollywood. Very similar to the wrestling business itself, just one man at a time will be the world champion. The primary was Hulk Hogan, who experimented with a jittery, cosmically bizarre, and in the end defective enterprise into crossover stardom within the late ’80s and early ’90s—after he had burned fairly a couple of bridges together with his colleagues within the ring. Hogan would play Thunderlips in 1982’s Rocky III, which might be the fourth or fifth greatest Rocky movie, in addition to intergalactic stormtrooper Shep Ramsey in 1991’s Suburban Commando alongside Christopher Lloyd and Shelley Duvall, a task that moved Roger Ebert to jot down, with resonant antipathy, “Hogan’s vary is restricted, however not as restricted as the flicks he’s appeared in.”

Hogan would return to wrestling together with his tail between his legs within the mid-Nineteen Nineties, and at present performs solely within the terrain of actuality tv. That left the Rock because the lone wrestler standing who might feasibly refine a transition into mainstream relevancy. He left WWE in 2004, following the promising yields of The Scorpion King and The Mummy Returns, and by no means seemed again. The Rock grew to become nuclearly profitable with billion-dollar franchises like Quick & Livid and the better DC cinematic universe, flexing an unusual affability and exact comedian timing that catapulted him to rarefied tiers of fame. (There was even a second in 2017 when audiences had been brazenly sizing up the Rock’s presidential bona fides.) Nevertheless, extra just lately, the Rock’s movie profession has petered out a bit, the results of a mixture of turgid motion pictures (Black Adam), box-office slaughters (Jungle Cruise), and rumors of interpersonal on-set toxicity. (Take into account the wealth of unhealthy vibes which have leaked from the Quick & Livid crew through the years.) Unsurprisingly, with solely two movies on his docket in 2024, the Rock has discovered himself again within the wrestling ring for the primary time since 2013. He’s main-eventing Wrestlemania this 12 months moderately than opening a blockbuster, which might solely be perceived as a downgrade in standing.

Cena clearly sensed a possibility and has stuffed the Rock’s hole seamlessly. The person is driving maybe the best sizzling streak a wrestler-cum-actor has ever loved, because of his distinctive nerdy charisma and skill to display real cinematic vulnerability regardless of his hulking body. He’s glorious in HBO’s psychotic Peacemaker, which is among the few survivors of the good superhero flick purge, and he’s coming off a 2023 wherein he appeared in six motion pictures—together with Barbie, the place he performed the immediately iconic Kenmaid. There’s a levity, and newness, to Cena’s reign that has made him unimpeachable—he’s an ubermuscular toy that auteurs can’t wait to play with. Extra importantly, his physique mass is just not integral to his artistic vary: Cena is booked for a film directed by Paul Feig—of Bridesmaids fame—later this 12 months, which is the precise kind of aesthetic mashup that will get my blood up. Over the previous a number of years, the Rock, in the meantime, has starred within the catastrophe flicks San Andreas, Skyscraper, and Rampage, which every requested him to symbolize the very same imperious ass-kicker he’s within the ring. He’s by no means fairly challenged himself in the identical approach.

The truth is, you possibly can make the argument that Cena isn’t even competing with the Rock for a similar turf, particularly when a unique rival is coming into view. Dave Bautista, who was not as well-known as both males throughout his time within the WWE, has carved out a exceptional area of interest as a mega-yoked aesthete. He’s a Marvel Avenger, a Dune villain, and a Blade Runner replicant, and has made time to look in a wide range of artisanal massive swings, like Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron and Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion. I wish to think about Bautista and Cena eyeing one another from throughout the ring, with the title on the road. The Rock? Effectively, he tapped out lengthy earlier than the primary occasion.

As a result of, really, there is just one extra achievement a wrestler has but to achieve in Hollywood. Ultimately, somebody goes to wish to brandish an Oscar as a winner, moderately than a presenter, thus placing the artwork {of professional} wrestling adjoining to aureate, mainstream status. Cena has the within observe. Make the cellphone name, Christopher Nolan. Oppenheimer would’ve seemed higher with huge biceps anyway.