For the last few movie reviews, I’ve been buried in the fast-approaching “Awards Season” fair. There’s been lots of period pieces and even more weepy emotionality. Well, I’m taking a break from that today! We rarely see a superhero movie hitting theaters in the fall. In fact, everything about Black Adam screams summertime tentpole. With that though, there’s a sense of overhanging uncertainty. How good is the much-hyped, latest entry into the DC Extended Universe? Will it shine on its own? Or is it simply a product of Dwayne Johnson‘s social media prowess? Read on!
Black Adam follows the aforementioned titular antihero (Dwayne Johnson). For much of the movie though, he’s known as “Teth Adam.” When archaeologist Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) unwittingly brings him back to life, Adam finds himself proclaimed savior of Kahndaq. However, “The Justice Society” has something to say about that. The volatile Adam it seems, can’t be trusted. Can they work together to ensure the “Crown of Sabbac” doesn’t fall into the wrong hands? Aldis Hodge, Pierce Brosnan, Noah Centineo, Quintessa Swindell and Marwan Kenzari co-star in the movie. Jaume Collet-Serra directs the film from a script by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani.
Full disclosure! As a film viewer, I tend to be very hot and cold with DC movies. Movies like Wonder Woman and Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight franchise have been some of my favorite films. However, others have really fallen flat. As such, it’s hard for me to have expectations walking into these movies.
This is particularly true with a character like Black Adam, who in all honesty, I have no background with whatsoever. Truthfully, it was a great place to come in as a viewer. The cinematic depiction isn’t fighting against any preconceived expectations. So, with that being said, this review won’t be examining this film from a comic standpoint. I couldn’t tell you if this is a faithful take on the series if I tried.
Now, my Dwayne Johnson memory goes back to when he was still just “The Rock.” I saw The Scorpion King in theaters, kids. Heck, it is still a struggle for me to call him Dwayne Johnson. He will always be “The Rock” in my brain.
However, in Black Adam, he’s found the pinnacle of his star persona. This is the role “The Scorpion King” should have been for him … if the movie wasn’t weighed down by early 2000s special effects. He still looks like a superhero in every sense of the word and Black Adam is most certainly Johnson’s movie.
The DCEU never has managed to nail down a consistent tone. We’ve seen everything from the brooding machismo Zack Snyder brought to the Superman franchise, the “exploitation” chaos of James Gunn‘s take on The Suicide Squad, to the quippiness David F. Sandberg brought to Shazam!.
In Black Adam’s early acts, there’s a definite sense of detachment coming across on-screen. This does in fact, make sense with Johnson’s performance. In his hands, Adam is very much “The Terminator,” just in superhero form.
However, this also carries over to Aldis Hodge as Hawkman and Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate. While there is some argument to be made about the detachment and exhaustion inherent in these men, it serves as a detriment to the film. Much of the narrative life falls squarely on Centineo and Swindell’s shoulders as the quippy kids in “The Justice Society.” They bring a much-needed sense of fun to the story when the other characters would rather be anywhere than where they are.
This film is not as dour as some of DC’s other works. Black Adam doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as other entries in this extended universe. It just takes them a bit to shake some of the dust off. By the middle of act two, everything is clicking.
DC continues to struggle with their inherent desire to build a self-contained world amongst these films. 9 years into the experiment, the extended universe has yet to truly hit its stride. The presence of stalwarts like Viola Davis as Amanda Waller is finally starting to yield some tie-ins. However, with The Justice Society team, audiences are once again faced with a group of heroes we’ve never met before.
That isn’t to say that every movie needs to be an origin story. However, Hawkman and Dr. Fate in particular struggle to find their footing. Hodge and Brosnan bring these men to the screen as tired, experienced heroes who have lived lives and seen some stuff. Ultimately though, as the audience, we haven’t been so lucky. We’re coming into these men’s stories in the third act. We don’t know who they are and the script is too overloaded already to provide the needed backstory. Hawkman needs his own movie, by the way.
That said, this script attempts to do an awful lot and it does struggle in that Herculean task. The film drops us into the fictional world of Kahndaq. It’s a stand-in for a middle eastern urban center like Cairo with all the history that entails. We learn early there are some political struggles in the region of the colonialist variety. An occupying force has come in to zap the area’s resources. However, this plot isn’t developed much beyond the “McGuffin” stage.
Beyond this, Black Adam introduces not just one, but five superheroes we’ve never met in this franchise before. This isn’t even diving into the non-metahuman cast.
Ultimately, the actors do what they can, but the introductory development isn’t there. I’m still not quite sure what role Adrianna (Shahi) plays in the narrative. As I watched the film, I believed her to be a freedom fighter. However, depending on the source, she’s also cited as a professor and archaeologist. Aside from being the female lead, the audience never really learns who this woman is.
That said, I had a heck of a good time watching Black Adam. As mentioned, there’s a winking sense of fun sprinkled throughout the narrative.
This is of course seen in the bone-crunching action. As a character, Black Adam has no physical limitations and the movie is having an absolute blast crafting heavy, frenetic, video-game-like action. At no point does it feel real.
While this has bothered me in the past, it didn’t this time around. Collet-Serra and his team lean heavily into the stylistic flair of the action and it goes a long way to hoisting Black Adam to a different level. Particularly memorable is an early action sequence crafted to The Rolling Stones hit “Paint it Black.” The music choice, cinematography and effects work blend seamlessly to craft a hefty, adrenaline-fueled experience, and I enjoyed myself immensely.
At the same time, when Black Adam lets itself really have fun, it’s a tremendous pleasure to watch. There are a number of moments harkening to Sergio Leone‘s “The Man with No Name” trilogy which had this classic film fan chuckling. Meanwhile, once the characters find their footing in the second act, some great moments show the same sense of fun DC captured in 2019’s Shazam!.
Black Adam is getting a bit hammered in the reviews out there. Truthfully, I sat down expecting not to get it. However, as the final credits rolled, I was having fun. Are there some struggles? What superhero movie doesn’t have them? It would be great if DC would take a step back and let these characters simmer and develop. Ultimately though, Black Adam takes a charismatic performance from Dwayne Johnson and, thanks to solid direction from Jaume Collet-Serra, brings an entertaining and action-packed DC movie to the big screen. Fans of lighter DC fare like Shazam! and The Suicide Squad should definitely enjoy this one.
Pssst … no spoilers, but stay for the mid-credits sequence.
Black Adam opens in theaters everywhere on October 21, 2022.
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