World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the largest wrestling company on the planet that famously brought the world some of the biggest names the entertainment industry has ever seen. Names like John Cena, Hulk Hogan and of course, The Rock. Off the back of the Monday Night Wars (in which WWE drew TV ratings as high as 8.1 million) the company founded its very own production company: WWE Studios.
Looking back at the original founding of the company, it was a surprisingly good idea. With wrestling being its own form of acting and having generated such high ratings on TV as well as high buy rates on Pay-Per-View, it was a viable offshoot for the company to start producing movies. With one of its biggest stars in The Rock having just made the leap to Hollywood with his role in The Mummy: The Scorpion King, it made sense to start producing right there and then with him starring in their first three films: The Scorpion King, The Rundown (a.k.a. Welcome to the Jungle) and Walking Tall. Despite how smart this decision may have seemed, the company’s first three movies either flopped or barely made a blip at the box office.
As for the WWE, they went on to produce such films as Inside Out (no, not that one), Countdown (again, not that one) and Oculus (actually, yes, that one). Despite mainly releasing straight to DVD schlock starring its very own wrestlers in the lead roles, the company did recently strike big with the release of 2019’s Fighting With My Family. With its upcoming family/animated movie Rumble arriving at theatres in 2021, the company may just hit it big again with young audiences, but first up…
The Main Event
Jay Karas / 2020 / USA / 111 mins
When it comes to wrestling movies, there wasn’t much of a reputation until the last few years or so. Even with this newfound critical reception toward movies like Fighting With My Family and The Peanut Butter Falcon (as well as TV Shows like GLOW) the portrayal of the history of wrestling in film isn’t often worthy of much conversation. The occasional documentary, and of course, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler made it feasible for good wrestling movies to exist, however, wrestling movies of the past mainly consisted of films like Nacho Libre, Ready to Rumble and No Holds Barred.
The agonising past of terrible wrestling movies may be down to the idea that many, especially now, are aware of the predetermined nature of professional wrestling. Therefore making it difficult for audiences to become fully invested in a dramatised version of the sport. The Main Event attempts to get around this by targeting the movie towards a younger audience.
It follows Leo, a young WWE fan living with his father and his grandma. Although Leo is a regular victim of bullying, has few friends and is dealing with the aftermath of his parents’ divorce, he finds an escape in wrestling. When Leo discovers a wrestling mask which gives him unmeasured charisma and incredible strength, he can finally live out his dream of becoming a WWE Superstar by entering a tournament they’re holding to discover the next big thing. In a lot of ways, the movie is basically Like Mike, the 2002 family film in which a child finds a pair of Michael Jordan’s shoes and gains magical basketball powers.
The film is exactly what it says on the tin: a kid’s wrestling movie. The skeleton of the story (key scenes, story beats, outcome etc) are all exactly as you would expect from having seen any children’s movie. However, throwing wrestling into the mix allows the film to be a little more interesting. More action, impressive set pieces and the ability to pander to its target audience through multiple cameos and references.
The wrestling in the movie is, of course, dealt with in a comedic and over-the-top manner. In one particular match against WWE’s Otis, there’s a twenty-seven second long slow motion shot of Otis farting Leo out of the ring. However, these sequences often add either entertainment or excitement to the movie.
There’s the problem of a child being allowed to wrestle against grown men, but the film skips around this issue using Superman logic. The mask changes Leo’s voice, gives him more confidence and most importantly, hides his face. Even with these ‘disguises’ to both the character’s appearance and personality, he still stands just under five foot. It’s obvious that he’s a child, yet no match is ever stopped, nor does WWE ever ask Leo for any further details outside of his ring name. In saying this, this is a movie in which a wrestling mask gives a young child magical wrestling powers, so applying logic to it may be a waste of time.
Of course, wrestling may be at the forefront of the movie, but The Main Event does have its serious moments. The relationship between Leo and his father often keeps the film from getting completely over the top. The dealing of it can be ridiculous at times (the father is portrayed as the bad guy in a situation where Leo’s mother left him for another man and has completely ignored her son since). Still, for the most part, it allows for some pretty heartwarming moments and even offers the pretty stereotypical movie something more unique.
The Main Event isn’t perfect, but it was never advertised as being anything more. For all of its faults, there’s plenty of energy and charisma portrayed on screen that it allows the audience to sit through the movie with ease.