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Dwayne Johnson says The Rock’s legendary heel turn inspired Black Adam

This month, the jabroni power structure shifts.

According to Dwayne Johnson, bringing Black Adam to the big screen was a battle from start to finish. And one he couldn’t have done without the assistance of The Rock, his heel-ready wrestling character.

The origins of Black Adam can be traced back nearly as far as The Rock’s time in the WWE, which culminated with a third heel turn flavored with Hollywood celebrity. Johnson initiated conversations with New Line Cinema in 2007 about a Shazam film. At the time, the wrestler turned actor had already appeared in The Scorpion King, The Rundown, and the more family-friendly Gridiron Gang, and the film, which would tell the story of both Shazam (aka Captain Marvel) and Black Adam, was conceived to have a lighter tone under the direction of comedy director Peter Segal (who would go on to work with Johnson on Get Smart). Johnson was apparently approached to play Shazam, but saw more promise in Black Adam.However, the film would spend a decade in Development Hell. Johnson claims that the version we’ll see in October is “not at all” like the character’s initial ambitions.

“After years and years of discussion, of conversation, of battling, the movie that was eventually delivered was Shazam and Black Adam, in one movie, trying to portray both origin tales inside 100 minutes,” Johnson tells Polygon. “And it appeared to be thrown together.” It didn’t feel like it gave both characters and origin tales the attention and respect they deserved.”

Despite all of the back and forth, Johnson claims that the script for the dual-star feature was just completed six or seven years ago. The script caused him to contact Warner Bros. management and question the project’s overall concept.

“I replied, ‘I think we really need to move in a different route.'” ‘I believe we should break this up and do two movies,’ remembers Johnson. “[The writing] was funnier, which made it more difficult. The Black Adam we saw on our side, the Seven Bucks [Johnson’s production firm], was violent and intense, and he was really fucking mad. He had his family wiped out. That’s how he feels. And it was difficult to set that [tone] when we had another event going on here — and with a lot of kids!”

Johnson is returned to a grittier wavelength by Black Adam. While his career is riddled with PG blockbusters (Race to Witch Mountain, Tooth Fairy, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) and tentpoles for all ages (the Jumanji trilogy, Skyscraper, Red Notice), there’s noticeable Rock DNA in his early films. The gruff hero of his Walking Tall remake, the unhinged action star in Southland Tales, and even his early Fast franchise outings as Luke Hobbs all lean towards a meaner streak that was akin to The Rock’s feather-ruffling ring image. Bringing true wrath to Black Adam, and a force capable of changing “the structure of power in the DC Universe,” as Johnson has often said in the press, may be the apex of that.

When I ask Johnson if he was inspired by his days as The Rock, notably his famed 1998 heel turn that paired him with Vince McMahon and changed his character into the “Corporate Champion,” he chuckles a little. “I liked how you stated that.”

Johnson has been out of the wrestling business for over 20 years, but his WWE character is still one he enjoys remembering. “The Rock,” he claims, was instrumental in moving Black Adam away from what he could have been in 2007 — and possibly closer to what fans of the DC world and Johnson’s are actually searching for.

“When I was a heel and did that heel turn… folks might not have agreed with my ‘why,’ and they might not have agreed with the things I’d do.” Wrestling was really different back then. The Attitude Era was far more aggressive. We got away with a lot of nonsense that you wouldn’t be able to get away with now. While not everyone agreed with the heel Rock, everyone knew why he was doing what he was doing because I had the opportunity to talk about it — and talk crap like The Rock did. So there were several parallels.The link to Black Adam is that, while you may disagree with his worldview and see him as a supervillain, antihero, defender, or even a superhero… everyone understands.”

With a Rock-like swagger, Black Adam was brought to the big screen with a combination of strength and loud talk. Johnson says it took his team years to get their vision to the screen, from the choice to produce a standalone Black Adam film in the first place to the addition of the Justice Society and other recognized DC Comics names.

“We battled for a long time, and we weren’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer,” recalls Johnson. “And now we’re here.”

On October 21, Black Adam will be released in cinemas.

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