When Hollywood finds something that works, it tends to stick with it. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a huge hit, so, of course, we’re getting a sequel, but that’s not all. Today it was announced that Dwayne Johnson and director Jake Kasdan will also be teaming up for an entirely separate project, a new family movie called John Henry and The Statesmen which will see Johnson in the title role, and will also see one of the biggest names in entertainment make the jump to Netflix.
The movie is written by Tom Wheeler who previously scripted The LEGO Ninjago Movie as well as the Puss in Boots spinoff to Shrek. While specific details are vague, it seems like the elevator pitch here is essentially, “The Avengers but with folklore,” with Dwayne Johnson playing John Henry, the African-American folk hero who was so good at driving steel on the railroad that he raced a steam-powered machine designed to do the same. The movie is set to include an ensemble cast that will apparently include other folk characters from around the world, though none of them are specifically named.
The announcement of John Henry and the Statesmen calls the project out as a “brand new franchise” and also refers to it as a “shared universe” so clearly all involved see the potential in this idea to be more than one movie. We could see solo spinoffs of some of the characters that are a hit with fans as well as sequels of this movie which will apparently set up some kind of team dynamic with all these folklore characters as a group called the Statesman. Not to be confused with the team of the same name from the last Kingsman sequel, which is apparently getting its own movie at some point as well.
One thing that seems clear is that the characters of John Henry and the Statesmen will stretch beyond American folklore and bring in other countries as well. The fact that Netflix has global reach and that Dwayne Johnson’s star power crosses borders is clearly important to this project. Most of Netflix’s growth in recent years has been outside the United States, and if that is going to continue Netflix needs to provide content that will be of interest to a global audience.
The fact that Dwayne Johnson, who is involved in so many active projects that it’s unclear if he actually sleeps, will be adding a Netflix project to his schedule also can’t be overlooked. It was a major get when Will Smith signed on to star in Bright, but this takes things to another level. Dwayne Johnson may be the biggest movie star in the world right now, and one of his new movies won’t be on the big screen.
Dwayne Johnson recently wrapped filming on Disney’s Jungle Cruise and with the sequel to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle set for a December 2019 release, that movie will probably begin shooting very soon. Johnson is also set to star alongside Gal Gadot in Red Notice which has a summer 2020 release date. Perhaps, once all that is done, Johnson will have time to film John Henry and the Statesmen.