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Does a Duke Nukem Movie Have a Place in Today’s World?

Following The Hollywood Reporter dropping the news that the team behind Netlix’s cobra kai will be working on a Duke Nuke feature film, AV Club followed up with a characteristically snarky article asking simply “Why?” They wrote, “Why the hell are the Cobra Kai guys making a Duke Nukem movie? […] It’s the sound of the bottom of the barrel being well and truly scraped.”

1990s gaming character Duke Nukem exists frozen in the 20th Century, like Mike Myers in austin powers, or perhaps more aptly: a man out of time. Through the heady video game wars of the 90s, Duke was the big brother and hard-R equivalent of Super Mario or Sonic. Iconic and recognizable with his yellow hair and pants held aloft by braces full of grenades, Duke was this musclebound, machine-gunning product of the late 90s spoofing the movies and the intensity of the time, while simultaneously adding to it. Duke was popcorn, best enjoyed at two am after a few beers when you just wanted to make a load of aliens blow up.


Introducing the Duke

Building directly on the successes of the first-person shooter genre of wolfenstein and doom (and Duke’s own previous foray in side scrollers), Duke’s creative team, 3D Realms, would opt for the ingeniously simple idea to give their protagonist a voice and thus a personality. Duke Nukem 3D swore, frequently. He smoked stogies and was pulsating with machismo, to the point of being a sexist. In between animated bars and strip clubs, he kicked ass and was incredibly violent. Nukem was a jock and a meathead, and the video game world loved it (Duke Nukem 3D alone sold over three and a half million copies).

More games followed, with graphics improving as they jumped from MS-DOS to the N64 and Playstation, eventually transitioning to third person. While the weapons updated, becoming more varied and fun with each new addition, added emphasis was also given to the storylines, which involved loose set-ups where Duke would have to travel through time to save dystopian lands made up now solely of the opposite sex .

Duke Nukem For-Never

And then, after 2002, Duke disappeared. The ill fated Duke Nukem Forever was released nine years later across multiple platforms, and the return we got entirely disappointed. With the game having been touted since all the way back in the franchise’s 90s heyday, the wait had appropriately felt like forever at this point.

Relatively basic and with buggy gameplay, Duke didn’t come back with the explosive bang the fans were hoping for (or promised in misleading trailers all the way back at 1998’s E3). Some even felt straight-up cheated by the “finished” product. Critics ripped the game to shreds and effectively gave Duke his last “game over.”

In an eye-opening and all-encompassing piece for Wired, Clive Thompson wrote:

Broussard simply couldn’t tolerate the idea of ​​Duke Nukem Forever coming out with anything other than the latest and greatest technology and awe-inspiring gameplay. He didn’t just want it to be good. It had to surpass every other game that had ever existed, the same way the original Duke Nukem 3D had. But because the technology kept getting better, Broussard was on a treadmill.

Douche Nukem

Today’s landscape doesn’t really crave or even need Duke. He is, in every sense, a dinosaur of a character. No one believed he would show up in Smash Bros. (or wanted him there), and the forever effort left a dissatisfied taste in fan’s mouths after having to wait so very long. This was a character that didn’t necessarily die out, but rather was killed by disinterest.

And in a post-#MeToo era, Duke also now simply comes off as problematic. His rescuing of “babes” (a main goal of each of the levels in the earlier games) simply just wouldn’t fly in today’s film or game market (looking back at some Duke Nuke branding alone is eye-wateringly dated with, one ad reading “If you don’t play Duke Nukem 3Dyou like men!”).

The Duke Nukem character has been on life support since his failed return to gaming, only now kept alive by nostalgic memories of earlier games and a smattering of non-sequitur voice-overs on TikTok videos. Even worse for the character, the games that Duke Nuke had previously bested in the 90s (wolfenstein and doom) are still extremely popular today and often critical gold for their innovations, leaving the buff bully Duke Nukem as a relic of the past, looking like some punk who peaked at high school now fat, graying, and on his third wife.

Duke Nukem: Back Off, I Know Karate!

But we’re going to go out on a limb here, and say that with the news of Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg attached to a Duke Nuke movie, this could actually be incredible. These guys resurrected the damn karate Kid – another previously beloved series from the past that no one then gave a crap about and punched and kicked it into an ugly and crude form that current audiences could consume. Their hit Netflix series, cobra kaihas now been running for four whole series.

Previously Hurwitz and Schlossberg worked on the Harold & Kumar flicks and (the far better than it should have been) american pie movie, American Meeting, showing that they can do crass adult humour. Heald also co-wrote the cult classic Hot Tub Time Machine, bringing evidence that the team has experience with sci-fi. These boys have loads of experience in no-hope projects aplenty.

Related: Duke Nukem: Why Cobra Kai’s Creators Are the Perfect Choice for the Adaptation

The jogging is there. Over the last five years, video game movie adaptations have shown that they can be done faithfully and sell tickets too. with the sonic the hedgehog movies, alongside the wonderfully fun Mortal Kombat picture in 2021 and the announcement of a long overdue Super Mario movie, the Duke Nuke brand certainly has big enough balls to make this work even after such a long hiatus.

Nukem-ular Fallout

If this proposed Duke Nuke movie wants to keep its blockbuster main character, it must update to a current generation and appreciate that he hasn’t been current in over 20 years. So give us time travel, but set it in the current day; even this year, why not? And show how much the world has moved on from the throbbing hard-Duke sexism of the 1990s, but ironically still has the same taste for its bloody violence. Make the character clueless and sad inside all those bulging muscles; again, he’s a man out of time.

This series has always had a sense of humor (one of our personal favorite sight gags remains the scientists in the Land of the Babes game, who are still essentially supermodels, just with lab coats to differentiate them), so there could be a great joke in the idea of ​​a feature-length gender reverse. A female twist on Duke Nuke in an idiocracy-style world is a mouth-watering premise.

Related: Here’s What Makes John Cena Perfect For Superhero Movies

And we’re not saying make it “woke” (hell, Duke Nukem has always been closer to bedding Miss America than being her). Far from it, make it as crass, cocksure, and obnoxious as it needs to be, but just don’t punch down and make it mean. AV Club thinks Duke is a joke. Okay, make him a joke, but a funny one again.

Is John Cena the Duke of 2022?

Speculatively going one further, there’s a reason that fans of the endless rumors behind a Duke Nuke movie have been calling for John Cena’s casting. The high demand for a Cena Nukem stems from him not only looking the part (as a pro wrestler, Cena’s body might as well be animated), but because he essentially already did it with this year’s peacemaker. In the hit HBO series, Cena starred as a backwards killer who believes that as long as he’s killing for his country and patriotism then it must be good. Obviously, the characters are vastly different even if they look remarkably similar; but Cena, granting over 650 wishes for Make-A-Wish, is the kind and likable person who could give Duke Nukem charm beneath the chisel.

Is a whole movie going to be a major balancing act to get right? Absolutely. Duke’s content is as radioactive as the toxic waste insignia attached to his very name, but there’s so much potential with the source material and in the names already behind the scenes. As long as that team is careful, and respectful when it counts of these changing times, then a Duke Nuke movie *could be* a scream. Then again, if they’re not careful, then this promising team may end up falling on their own sword.

Wait, that’s no sword!

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