2003's The Rundown, there's a moment as Dwane "The Rock" Johnson's character walks into a nightclub when he passes Arnold Schwarzenegger, making a cameo appearance in the film. Schwarzenegger nods to him and says "Have fun" with a knowing look on his face. Although only three films into his Hollywood career, it was clearly understood by anyone paying attention to Johnson that he was going to be the spiritual successor to Schwarzenegger's Hollywood legacy.
Ten years later, I think it's fair to say that prediction was spot-on. Dwane Johnson has gone on to make a number of films in a variety of genres, from kids movies (Race to Witch Mountain, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, The Tooth Fairy, The Game Plan) to dramas (Gridiron Gang, Southland Tales) to action-oriented movies spanning the spectrum from gritty thrillers like Faster to his historical fantasy films in the Mummy series, from sci-fi splatterfests like DOOM to G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Lately, Johnson has found a place in the last two Fast and Furious franchise films, and he's listed as having a part in the next film as well.
I say all this to illustrate a point; his very impressive career, spanning a relatively short time frame, while touching on a wide variety of films, mimics in many ways Schwarzenegger's own career over the 80's and 90's. If anything, I think Johnson has proven his ability to handle a range of movies that's even greater than Schwarzenegger's, especially in being cast in movies that aren't just comedies, but children's films. And yet, at the same time, he can go on to make films that are brutally violent (Faster is a perfect example here).
OK, three paragraphs in and I haven't talked about Snitch. This 2013 film stars Johnson as John Matthews, the owner of a small but apparently successful trucking company that specializes in construction. His son from his first marriage, a newly-minted 18 year old, does something incredibly stupid and gets arrested with a very sizable amount of Ecstasy on him. Federally-mandated sentences for drug-related charges in this volume dictate that the young man is going to prison for at least the next ten years, unless he can aid the government in making other drug arrests. Unfortunately for Matthews' son, the only drug dealer he knows is the friend who sent him the Ecstasy - the same friend who rolled over to the cops and got him busted in the first place.
In a panic over the thought of his son going to jail for the next ten years (a sentence Matthews worries the boy won't even survive), Matthews pleads with the prosecuting attorney (icily played by Susan Sarandon), offering his own services in making arrests on his son's behalf. At first the offer is rejected, but when Matthews uses an ex-con on his employ to get an introduction with a local drug lord, the attorney agrees to make a deal if Matthews is successful.
From there, the plot really kicks off. Matthews uses his trucking business as a means to transport drugs and cash, but it turns out that the local drug lord is involved with a Mexican Cartel kingpin, a whole other magnitude of danger for Matthews. When it is made clear to him that his chances of getting out of the situation alive are next to nothing if he tries to play ball with the Cartel and the government at the same time, he takes matters into his own hands to see things through to the end.
What I liked most about Snitch is how surprisingly low-key the whole movie is. If this had been a Schwarzenegger vehicle back in the late 80's or early 90's, Matthews would probably have had a military background, a locker full of guns...well never mind - he made this movie, and it was called Commando. And while Johnson is involved in some gunplay during the climax of the movie, to my best recollection, he doesn't throw a single punch the entire film. In fact, Johnson's physicality is almost a non-factor in this film; the role could have been taken by almost any actor. The fact that someone felt that Johnson had the dramatic chops to handle the part speaks volumes for his talents, especially his approachability as a human being. While Schwarzenegger made a career out of his near-superhuman presence, Johnson comes off in most of his films as surprisingly human, even when he's at his most Herculean in the F&F movies or the G.I. Joe film.
As much as it pains me to say this as a lifelong Schwarzenegger fan, I think Johnson will go on to, if not match his predecessor's reputation, perhaps even exceed it someday.