“Black Adam” stars Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Noah Centineo, Bodhi Sabongui, and Pierce Brosnan. Released on October 21, 2022, the film is about a powerful being encountering the Justice Society of America during his rampage.
The film is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed films such as “House of Wax”, “Orphan”, “The Shallows”, and “Jungle Cruise”. It is a spin-off from the 2019 film “Shazam!” and the eleventh film in the DC Extended Universe. Many people from across the globe have gained superpowers following the tragic events that affected their lives. Those ranged from losing a loved one to getting hurt in an accident. Most people use their unique powers to change people’s lives and their own for the better, while some use them for vengeful and violent purposes. One person uses them to wreck stuff up, no matter who’s good or bad. 2019 saw the DC Extended Universe introduce moviegoers to Shazam, a superhero who’s actually a boy that can transform into a man by just saying his name. Long story short, the result is better than most DC movies regarding its critical and financial successes. Three years later, the struggling superhero franchise is introducing us to his nefarious counterpart. For people who haven’t picked up a comic, Black Adam is the darker and more violent equivalent to Shazam, who also gains god-like powers from the original Shazam. He often clashes with Shazam in different types of media, like comic books and television. However, they have never encountered each other on the big screen, mainly because Shazam will be busy fighting Atlas’s daughters in his follow-up next year. Until that happens, we’ll embrace the fact that a movie featuring Black Adam exists thanks to Dwayne Johnson. Regardless of how troubling the cinematic universe is now, I’m always looking forward to seeing the DC characters on the big screen. This film is no exception, mainly due to Johnson’s promise that it’ll “change the hierarchy of the DC Universe”, along with a few extra surprises that I won’t spoil. So was the film able to deliver on that promise and provide some superhero entertainment, or was it another visual-bloated mess that hinders the franchise’s potential for greatness? Let’s find out.
The story centers on Teth-Adam (Johnson), an enslaved person held prisoner in the ancient city of Kahndaq. He’s eventually bestowed the powers of multiple Egyptian gods from an old wizard and uses them for revenge, resulting in his eternal imprisonment. Five thousand years later, Teth-Adam was unleashed upon the world by a university professor named Adrianna Tomaz (Shahi). He flies around modern-day Kahndaq, causing havoc using his own way of justice. His threat to humankind attracts the attention of a superhero team known as the Justice Society of America. They’re like the Justice League but smaller. Led by Carter Hall (Hodge), aka “Hawkman”, the JSA sets out to stop his rampage. Meanwhile, a criminal organization called Intergang, led by Ishmael Gregor (Kenzari), emerges with a dastardly plan to rule the world using the Crown of Sabbac. This forces Black Adam and the Justice Society to put aside their differences and defend the planet from Ishmael.
The movie was supposed to be the cinematic debut of Johnson’s interpretation of the DC antihero. However, that title surprisingly went to the recently released “DC League of Super-Pets” via a post-credit scene. There’s nothing to say about that scene, as he’s only a quick appetizer before the main course. However, I did enjoy the pleasant little surprise in the genuinely fun animated take on the DC universe. That, and seeing Adam being carried off to Pluto by his canine companion (also voiced by Johnson). So now we have the actual debut of the character in his live-action and more serious self in the latest installment in the DCEU.
As far as movies about antiheroes go, some, like 1997’s “Spawn” and “Catwoman”, failed to provide the same impact as the superheroes onscreen. Although, a few like the “Deadpool” films prove that making them as empathetic as the traditional heroes can work with the proper execution and the right amount of care put into them. “Black Adam” has the potential to be not just another example of the latter but also a strong starting point in DC’s new direction for the franchise. However, that potential was sadly out of reach regarding its execution, but it’s not without a few enjoyable moments to keep it from losing its spark.
Regarding the storytelling, most of the installments in the DCEU missed a few opportunities to balance it with the superhero spectacle. Some movies wound up being fun and stylish rides despite their flaws, like “Aquaman” and “The Suicide Squad”, while others, like 2016’s “Suicide Squad” and “Wonder Woman 1984”, failed to impress even the hardcore DC fans. In the case of “Black Adam”, I would say it’s somewhere in between. “Black Adam” works well as simplistic popcorn entertainment for audiences who need escapism. It’s flashy, energetic, and undoubtedly fun. Unfortunately, when it tries to combine those traits with its plot and characters, that’s where the movie struggles.
One of the things that made the story interesting for me was its themes. “Black Adam” not only explores the Middle East community and what it means to be a “champion” but also examines people’s beliefs in justice. Many people see justice differently, with some, like Teth-Adam, believing that killing bad people is the only solution to earn it. Others, like the Justice Society, only serve justice without murder. The line between hero and villain always grabs my attention in superhero movies, including “The Batman”. “Black Adam” is no “The Batman” regarding its tone, but it’s also not the superhero masterpiece it wants to be.
The film’s narrative isn’t without a few moments that were both promising and entertaining. One of them is Teth-Adam. Like “Deadpool”, the movie delivers on making its main character empathetic despite depicting him murdering people out of rage. It gives us an understanding of why he was in that position, even though it’s something we’ve seen many times before. Plus, the twist in the third act works well in providing a different perspective of Adam. These character traits were miraculously brought to life by Mr. Dwayne Johnson himself. While he’s known for playing highly charismatic and funny characters, his performance as Black Adam further proves he can also effectively portray badass characters while maintaining his usual charm. Whether the movie is good or not, I can say he’s one of the best parts of the experience.
The other element I enjoyed was the action. Many DC films are known for providing visual spectacle in their superhero violence. Some of them are intense and violent, like “Man of Steel” and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”, while others are fun and somewhat brutal, like “The Suicide Squad”. “Black Adam” belongs in the category that offers undeniably enjoyable fight scenes that are also a bit savage. It’s not as grotesque as the violence in “The Suicide Squad” since it’s teen-rated, but it does have some scenes that may be too much for anyone under five years old. It also has some slow-motion effects similar to the other DCEU films from Zack Snyder, so if you enjoy those, there are plenty of them for you to like in this one.
The last thing that makes it worth checking out is the cast. As mentioned earlier, Dwayne Johnson did a great job portraying the titular antihero through his convincing performance. But what about the rest of the actors on screen, you ask? Well, I can only say that they’re admittedly entertaining, but not enough to make them standouts like Johnson. Sarah Shahi was decent in her role as Adrianna, a professor and resistance fighter in Kahndaq. Although, I can’t say the same for Bodhi Sabongui, who plays Adrianna’s son, Amon. There were times when Sabongui tried way too hard to make Amon compelling that it came off as corny, especially during the third act. As for the actors playing the Justice Society, I thought they did pretty well in delivering a solid first impression of the superhero team. Aldis Hodge was good as Hawkman, and Noah Centineo delivered some suitable laughs as Atom Smasher. Sure, some of the humor was a bit forced, but all that matters is whether I laughed at them or not, and boy, did I laugh at some of those humorous scenes. But, of course, I can’t forget about Pierce Brosnan, who’s just as terrific as usual regarding his performance as Doctor Fate.
Despite those lovely things that Johnson and the crew gave us, the film doesn’t exactly have the proper storytelling to make its themes and superhero formula work in its favor. Part of that is due to the supporting characters. With Adam in the spotlight, the other characters have the opportunity to share it with him with their own moments, including the Justice Society. Unfortunately, while they mostly succeed in delivering that promise, especially the humor, they’re hardly something worth writing home about. One character I didn’t like the most was its antagonist, Ishmael, played by Marwan Kenzari, who’s known for playing Jafar in the 2019 remake of “Aladdin” and Joe in “The Old Guard”. Kenzari did what he could to make the most out of his character regarding his performance. Sadly, it’s not enough to elevate Ishmael’s by-the-numbers persona, making him another forgettable villain in the world of superhero cinema. Another reason is the pacing. Whether it’s regarding the narrative, the action, or both, the pacing and editing felt inconsistent in exploring specific aspects of the film, resulting in an uneven mess that’s a bit more tolerable than the other movies with similar flaws.
Overall, “Black Adam” showcases the usual superhero spectacle we’d expect, but its narrative aspect falls short of maintaining its intriguing spark. It’s another superhero origin film that falters in its storytelling and themes but accomplishes its goal of being an enjoyable and visually impressive experience for DC fans and general moviegoers. In cases like this, that’s all we could ever want out of a superhero movie, especially one from the DC Extended Universe. Dwayne Johnson’s performance and the film’s entertaining action are enough to punch its way out of its narrative flaws, including the characters, formulaic elements, and pacing. I would also give it credit for getting me interested in the change in direction that could play a role in the franchise’s future. What matters now is whether it’ll help DC compete with Marvel regarding their cinematic universes. If you don’t care much about the story and want to see Dwayne Johnson fight people with his lightning powers and super strength, this movie delivers on that promise and nothing else.