For WrestleMania fans the most important reason to have volume 28 in their library will be the "Once in a Lifetime" main-event match between Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson and John Cena, two of the most recognizable faces of professional wrestling and bona fide superstar royals in the stable of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Most of the world now knows Johnson as a movie-star action hero and sometime gifted dramatic/comedic actor (see Be Cool
). But before he became a global box-office draw, the Rock was one of WWE's mainstays in and out of the ring, carrying on elaborate feuds and grudge matches with other standouts in the pro-wrestling empire. John Cena (who has also racked up several acting credits) was one of those, so it's pure showbiz grandstanding that pits the two in a battle of steroid-enhanced bulging biceps, making this three-disc set an instant classic. Who wins? It's not hard to guess, but that's really not the point of watching the state-of-the-art acrobatic moves like Rock Bottoms, Powerslams, People's Elbows, and Attitude Adjustments that the two throw around in a precisely staged dance of entertainment aggression. Even the most rabid fans will agree that the heavily branded style of WWE events is pure entertainment, and the nearly 80,000 people who attended WrestleMania XXVIII on April 1, 2012, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, got exactly that. The Cena/Rock match featured on disc two isn't the only draw that will thrill WWE enthusiasts. Billed as "The End of an Era Hell in a Cell Match," Triple H grinds it out with Undertaker within the confines of a chainlink cage. Two six-man crews soar and swing at each other when Team Teddy faces Team Johnny; a heavily hyped girl/girl tag-team bout pits Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounos against Beth Phoenix and Eve both in and out of the ring. There are also contests pitting Daniel Bryan against Sheamus for the World Heavyweight Championship belt and a WWE Championship Match featuring loved and/or hated stars CM Punk and Chris Jericho. In each of the event's eight official matches, the commentators fall all over themselves with hyperbole and breathless, jargony play-by-play while the spotlights swirl, the hip-hop and bass beats pump, and the camera cranes zoom around the capacity crowd, whose adrenaline level probably exceeds that of the attraction's performers. Interspersed with the actual matches are features such as interviews, up-close-and-personal backstories, and the ubiquitous pre-bout baiting sessions staged on massive prosceniums and mega video screens. Disc three is the three-plus-hour 2012 WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony--a glittering event on par with any highly produced industry logrolling party such as the Emmys or the Oscars. Along with the WrestleMania show itself, the ceremony pretty much sums up the unifying themes of theater, comedy, drama, pathos, and consuming passion that are all equally important and quite obviously genuine for performers, promoters, and fans alike.
Far from being a marginalized arena for cult-status devotees, pro wrestling and the annual WrestleMania events are decidedly mainstream. This is high-gloss, big-budget performance art with lots of sweat, but none of the bloodletting or unrehearsed moves that define the subculture of the amateur or low-rent pro circuit seen in countless YouTube videos and portrayed by Mickey Rourke and filmmaker Darren Aronofsky in The Wrestler. The savagery has an ordered politeness that's more about storytelling and tightly choreographed athleticism than it is about violence and chaos. Indeed, there's a strong message of positivity and tolerance pervading all the bogus grudges and phony beatings. The uplifting message that's built in to WWE's evolved brand of big-money entertainment is especially strong in the package's special features, including mentions of charity work the WWE stars are engaged in and the camaraderie they share when they're not play-acting and swaggering. There's a proudly positive message of equality to it all that's summed up in the massive "Rise Above Hate" T-shirt Cena wears during the pre-show press conference. WrestleMania is alive and well in America as an annual tradition that's proudly red, white, black, and blue. --Ted Fry