Black Adam (2022)
The world needed a hero. It got Black Adam.
Superhero fatigue is a very real thing, and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s explosive entry into the superhero genre Black Adam — a project he’s been trying to bring to our screens for over a decade — suffers due to a tiring sameness that’s been plaguing most superhero outings of late. The 11th film in the DC Extended Universe, Black Adam is an origin story that sees Johnson play Teth-Adam, aka Black Adam, a character created by Otto Binder and C. C. Beck back in 1945. He’s a god-like antihero with attitude who’s powered by some nifty lightning bolts. While it should feel fresh and novel, Black Adam possesses very few original ideas and doesn’t offer much we haven’t already seen before, simply coming off as just another generic comic book yarn.
Big, bombastic, but bloated, Black Adam is let down by an overreliance on special effects, repetitive fight sequences, a one-dimensional villain, and a script that doesn’t give us much to care about. Director Jaume Collet-Serra, Jungle Cruise (2021), however, does deliver a few impressive sequences and tries his darnedest to craft a dark, gritty Snyder-esque spectacle, even if a pretty sloppy script lets down the whole venture. Sure, the film toys around with the idea of what it means to be a hero and the differences between right and wrong. Still, these messages get lost in the general head-inducing cinematic racket surrounding them.
In a nutshell, the movie follows Dwayne Johnson, who plays the titular character, a juggernaut of an antihero from the primordial city of Kahndaq (situated on the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula), who is bestowed the powers of various Egyptian gods, only to be locked away after his anger is proven to be somewhat problematic for the mortal world. Reawakened after five thousand years of imprisonment by archaeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), while trying to evade the oppressive rule of Intergang, who’ve taken over modern-day Kahndaq, Teth-Adam wakes to discover that his people are still in need of protecting, only this time from a different threat.
Indeed, it should be noted that Johnson is a commanding presence as Black Adam and manages to strike a good balance between being both imposing and likable; Adam is a relentless killing machine here, one that can wipe out anything in his path and often murders baddies in relatively gruesome ways, having minimal sympathy for anyone who’s stopping him from achieving his goals — Collet-Serra definitely pushes the film’s PG-13 rating to the extreme. Yet, Johnson manages to make the guy affable, giving him a smidge of humanity and even a hint of deadpan humor — there’s a running gag about ‘sarcasm’ that’s actually quite amusing. Johnson also looks fantastic in his striking costume, which is a darker version of Shazam’s, seeing as he was bestowed his abilities by the wizard Shazam, with Djimon Hounsou reprising his role. Bear in mind, this is Johnson’s version of Black Adam, which has been altered to fit his own specific brand and persona and differs greatly from that of the comic books. Even so, this has been a long time coming, and finally seeing Johnson as a ‘superhero’ is somewhat satisfying.
Sadly, writers Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani fail to do anything exciting with Johnson or the material, giving us another humdrum McGuffin to center the story around. This time it’s the Crown of Sabbac, an ancient relic created to grant its wearer the abilities of Hell. Granted, the crown does bring about a couple of gnarly hellish sequences that make me wish Collet-Serra would one day dabble his toes back in the horror pool. What’s more interesting here, however, is the struggle centered around The Justice Society of America (JSA), who’ve been tasked by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to catch Teth-Adam and lock him up in her underwater prison after he’s deemed to be too much of a danger to our world. Not only are the scenes where the Justice Society duke it out against Adam some of the film’s most breathtaking, but these new characters are interesting enough to potentially be explored further down the line, even if they’re underdeveloped here.
Aldis Hodge, Hidden Figures (2016), manages to hold his own playing against Johnson as Carter Hall/ Hawkman, the leader of the JSA and veteran hero who spends the bulk of the movie either being smacked around by Adam or trying to convince him that killing people is not what champions do. This debate does bring up some interesting points, but we never get real answers to any of the questions being posed, such as why it’s taken Carter and his team of heroes so long to give a shit about a war-torn country, the JSA basically ignoring Kahndaq before Adam came along and started slaughtering goons.
Noah Centineo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), is rather charming (in a cute YA way) as Albert ‘Al’ Rothstein/ Atom Smasher, a guy who can control his molecular structure and change his size and strength; Henry Winkler pops up in a cameo as Al’s father, the original Atom Smasher Al Pratt. Similarly, Quintessa Swindell, Voyagers (2021), is solid as Maxine Hunkel/ Cyclone, a JSA member that can control wind and sound (her fight sequences are beautifully designed, too). The real MVP, though, is ex-Bond star Pierce Brosnan, who portrays Kent Nelson/ Doctor Fate, a sorcerer who possesses the magical Helmet of Fate, headgear that allows him to see visions of the future. Brosnan manages to steal every scene he is in, his effortless charisma making the character the film’s most fascinating and endearing, despite sharing too many similarities with Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
Others stand out, too, including Mohammed Amer, Mo (2022), who plays the widowed Adrianna’s brother Karim, an electrician who gets in way over his head, and newcomer Bodhi Sabongui, who portrays her son and general superhero fanatic Amon. It’s also nice to see Jennifer Holland show up in a brief scene as Emilia Harcourt from Peacemaker, which reminds viewers that the whole DCEU is still inextricably linked/ interconnected. Then there’s the mid-credit scene that’ll no doubt be the highlight for most patrons, a surprise I won’t dare spoil for those who don’t already know it’s coming.
Black Adam might not do anything novel or new, but that’s not to say it isn’t an enjoyable way to spend 125 minutes. The film’s visual palette is pleasing, and the movie probably features some of the best VFX I’ve seen in a superhero joint this year. I was probably just expecting more oomph, maybe hoping we’d have a better story to follow or at least something more memorable between the cluster of CGI-laden clashes. Both Jaume Collet-Serra and Dwayne Johnson bring their A-game, but I’m starting to feel that maybe the whole superhero genre just isn’t as super as it used to be.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)