Ignore the pyrotechnics and the frankly amazing, if ridiculous, dialogue from Jason Momoa’s Dante in Fast X — potentially the biggest surprise in the entire surprise is the mid-credit appearance by none other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, returning to the series as Luke Hobbs… something many fans of the franchise thought would never happen.
To be fair, there was good reason why people were thinking it would never happen: namely, Johnson went on record two years ago saying that it would never happen, complaining that Vin Diesel was manipulative, and that the two couldn’t work together. “ I was firm yet cordial with my words and said that I would always be supportive of the cast and always root for the franchise to be successful, but that there was no chance I would return,” he said in December 2021.
And yet, there he is, in May 2023, returning to the franchise. So… what happened?
The hierarchy of the DC Universe has changedBack when Johnson was being so definitive about there being no chance that he’d return to the world of Fast & Furious, the future of his career looked very different. After all, in December 2022, the release of Black Adam — the superhero movie that he’d been teasing for years by that point, which certainly seemed to be have a fanbase eagerly anticipating its appearance judging by the online reception it received — was still some months away, and Johnson clearly believed that it was going to be the role for him.
He gave interviews where he said things like, “I started training for Black Adam when I came out of the womb. I believe I was born to play this character.” He tweeted things like “the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe will change. Disruption is needed” with no seeming sense of irony. If subsequent reports are to be believed, he also was of the opinion that the success of Black Adam wouldn’t just turn the fortunes of the admittedly ailing DC movie franchise around, but it would put him at the forefront of that franchise, making him far more of a power player in Hollywood than ever before.
In December 2021, with all of that in the future, it was clearly good to be Dwayne Johnson. The only problem was: none of that came to pass.
The hierarchy of the DC Universe has changed, again
How badly did Black Adam perform at the box office? Some estimates suggest that it earned around $200 million less than it needed to in order to turn a profit, which is… not optimal, for someone who planned to use that movie to establish a beachhead from which to take over a franchise. Of course, Johnson’s plans fell apart surprisingly quickly — it was literally four days between the release of Black Adam, which failed to outperform weak box office projections, and the announcement that James Gunn and Peter Safran would relaunch DC as DC Studios, and serve as co-CEOs and co-chairmen for the new studio.
The writing had clearly been on the wall for some time before Black Adam’s release — it’s supremely unlikely that Warner Bros. Discovery would have come up with the idea to place Gunn and Safran in charge and convince them to take the job in just four days, after all — but that the fact that it cost WBD so much money for so little reward likely sealed Johnson’s fate both with WBD and, arguably, with other studios as well.
Black Adam, after all, outperformed Johnson’s other solo vehicles, and still was seen as something that disappointed and underperformed. For someone with grand ambitions, it was a significant setback, and no small humiliation — not to mention, a question that demanded an answer: after such a public setback, what do you do next to look like a winner again?
The end of the road
If nothing else, Fast X was guaranteed to be a hit. The penultimate (maybe) movie in a hit movie series that has no shortage of (quasi-ironic) credibility, Fast X was never going to fail at the box office, never mind do so in such a way that Black Adam had. As such, it would be the perfect big screen comeback for Johnson after Black Adam. (He’d still shown up on the small screen in the months in between, on episodes of Young Rock and on the documentary series Player 53: Chasing the XFL Dream.) The only problem was… how to make it happen without looking like he’d gone back on his word from before?
The answer, at least publicly, is that the movie was so good that an early cut convinced him. “We reached out to Dwayne and his team and said, ‘Just come and watch the movie. You have to love the movie first.’ So he came to see the movie and really loved it, and then we started talking,” director Louis Letterier has explained, giving Johnson cover for his change of heart. And, who knows…? Maybe he really did make his final decision after seeing a rough cut — but, really, the choice was made as soon as it became clear that Johnson’s attempt to become the boss of DC had crashed and burned.
Without Black Adam’s failure, maybe Luke Hobbs would never have be seen again. At least some good came out of Black Adam’s disappointment, I guess.
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