On a blustery October afternoon, several hundred wrestling and comic book fans came together to celebrate Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a local boy made good (yes we claim Dwayne Johnson like we claim Keanu Reeves -- the connection is arm's length but we need the wins here in Toronto). He was here promoting the upcoming DC Films/Warner Bros. release, Black Adam.
Kids and adults, cosplayers and folks with great big WWE belts all lined up side by side in front of the Cineplex corporation's adult playpen, the Rec Room. One passerby grumbled asking what was up, remarking, "Oh people line up for these things? I'm from L.A., we don't get star struck." No dude, you just harass stars until they die of ODs and car accidents. At least in Toronto, we give people their space until we are shown orderly queues to go in and express our admiration for their body of work (or in Dwayne Johnson's case, for some, his body which itself is a piece of work).
The air was full of overlapping conversations as I went in. "It's DC, it's not even Marvel," said one person. A late millennial man clearly only marginally in control of his excitement said, "The ROCK is here... you know, no big deal," and immediately stifled a squeal. And then the last being what I think may be the biggest struggle of the film, someone saying, "So... you know Shazam, right?"
Black Adam is a character who has been many things: a tyrant and a king, a hero and a villain. But one thing he's never been is as famous as The Trinity (for those not in the know, the big three DC archetypes: Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman). But as I was shuffled into the event space festivities already in progress, the excitement at this event was impressive. People were more worked up than I'd seen anyone for a Batman movie.
The Rec Room's arcade games were silenced and DJ 4Korners spun an amazing set keeping the crowd entertained. If you told me Eminem and Rush could be mixed into an awesome megamix, I'd have never believed you, but DJ 4Korners showed me the light. Bodies were pressed tight against the stage and we were still some time away from the main event (to borrow a wrestling colloquialism). Influencers were busy influencing on their live streams, brand ambassadors were negotiating peace treaties for energy drinks, and all the while the heroes of the day, the Rec Room and event staff, slipped through the throng bringing sliders and tiny cups of pasta to the voracious crowd.
The mix was unique -- a middle-aged goth couple was next to a young family, film students were across from businesspeople -- but regardless of station or stature the energy was palpable. I met Isik McCallum, who had a wonderful Black Adam costume and came to impress. A young woman named Rashawn was a huge fan of The Rock and DC, and for her these were two things she enjoyed coming together. Others were a little more blasé, like a fellow named Nick, who had "won a contest" and was just seeing what this all turned out to be. A young woman named Shawne was a big fan of The Rock's wrestling career but was more of a Marvel-ite, which she kept close to her chest as she was here with a friend who was pressed against the railing full of excitement.
It was a mix of people, but that was part of the excitement and wonder. Warner Bros. had put together an event that brought the spectrum of fandom together. Speaking to an educator who was there with several of her students from Toronto Film School, they told me how Warner Bros. had reached out, giving students a chance to go to their first big film premiere. It was an event that had a lot of thought and care behind it.
The energy was electric and the host was bringing fans on stage to play Rock Paper Scissors for prizes, but as the magic hour approached, the energy hit its crescendo. The host brought up Hiram Garcia, a partner at Johnson's production company, Seven Bucks. He was friendly and welcoming, but he knew what people were there to see. That's when he came out: the human personification of charm, Dwayne Johnson.
I did not grow up a wrestling fan. I was the target age during the Hulkamania era but it never clicked. I was more prone to watch the Bigfoot/Wrestlemania cartoon than to watch actual wrestling, but watching Dwayne Johnson take the stage and the outpouring of love from that audience was astounding. He thanked people, he acknowledged his family connection to the city, and he made genuine connections with the audience. He took selfies and spent time interacting with people, including one woman he met years prior who he knew had a tattoo of a saying he is prone to using. The man is a class act in every way. He was gracious, friendly, and worked the crowd into a lather.
In true Dwayne Johnson fashion, he was generous while playing the rebel. The last event of the night before we "marched" on to the cinema was a surprise trip to L.A. with a special tour. Two folks came up and "on the fly" Dwayne said they both got to go. Maybe it was staged, maybe there were always two prizes, but there was an earnestness to the experience that just made you believe, and Iblike living in a world where The Rock does nice things for people.
Eventually, it was time to go. We shuffled out of the venue onto the street, led to the movie theatre by a drum corps and assistants with black and yellow smoke flares. It was an interesting end to an interesting event, culminating with me in a seat waiting to watch Dwayne Johnson's Black Adam. Come back to Showbiz Monkeys next week for our review of the film.
Black Adam is in theatres and IMAX internationally beginning October 19, 2022, and then in North America on October 21, 2022.
Cover photo courtesy George Pimentel Photography. All other photos by Matthew Ardill.
Tags: Black Adam, Cineplex, The Rec Room, Dwayne Johnson, The Rock, Warner Bros., DCEU, DC Comics
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