Black Adam Review
PLOT: Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson), the mythical hero of the occupied city of Kahndaq, is released into modern times. While the woman (Sarah Shahi) who freed him and her family hoped he would liberate his people, Black Adam is not the hero they think he is. He hides a dark secret that puts him in conflict with the Justice Society of America, who want to stop his deadly rampage.
REVIEW: DC’s Black Adam is undoubtedly a passion project for Dwayne Johnson. He’s been attached to it in some form or another for about fifteen years. As everyone knows by now, the initial plan was to use him as a villain in the Shazam movie. Believing in the promise of the character, Johnson held out until he could get a film of his own. Indeed, Black Adam is among the most ambitious movies the star has ever made, with everyone’s goal clearly to spin this off into a major franchise for all involved.
In the end, Black Adam is an entertaining superhero epic, but it’s also a movie that feels like it’s been focus-grouped to death or reverse-engineered to be the biggest hit possible. This is all well and good, but it lacks the personal touch that has made other DC movies, including Joker, The Batman and even the Snyder-verse films, so compelling. Like them or not, one can’t say the Snyder movies were anything but a distinct vision, even if people didn’t care for what that vision ultimately was. Here, Black Adam takes a page out of the MCU handbook, with this an origin tale that also functions as a way to introduce a whole bunch of characters DC is likely trying to spin-off. The result is that Black Adam often feels like a supporting character in his own movie.
As a critic, my biggest worry going into this was actually Johnson. Like everyone, I enjoy The Rock, but I’ve always felt that he does the same role over and over, and somewhere around Jungle Cruise, his stuff just stopped working for me. That said, Johnson has put a lot of effort into making Black Adam different, with a clear desire to make this his new signature character. Johnson does indeed give the character a legit dark side, having him kill without hesitation. From the start, it’s evident that even if the goal is to pit him against a bigger DC hero eventually, he’s ultimately a hero through and through even if they present him, initially, as morally ambiguous. Johnson makes him compelling and likable. One movie that’s clearly a model for Black Adam is Terminator 2 Judgement Day. Remember how they had to limit the T-800’s body count in that one, and they mined that for humour? They do the same thing here, with Black Adam‘s willingness to kill played for laughs at a certain point. Like in T2, they even give him a John Connor-like child sidekick with Bodhi Sabongui’s Amon. While this may “sound” bad, it isn’t, with The Rock nailing the humor, the action, and the ultimately sweet relationship with the kid, who reminds Adam of his own lost child, giving the movie some heart.
Instead, my biggest issue with Black Adam is the emphasis on the JSA (Justice Society of America), as they distract too much from the hero. While I think the JSA could have been included in some form, specifically Pierce Brosnan’s Dr. Fate and Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman, too many characters are fighting for screen time. Noah Centineo and Quintessa Swindell’s Atom Smasher and Cyclone feel like they stumbled in from another movie and are obviously included to appeal to the youth market. Neither gets much to do (although both are perfectly decent in their thinly written roles), and they would have been better served with a movie of their own. Again, this feels like a transparent effort by WB and DC to get people craving a spin-off following the characters, but Adam is forgotten when they’re the focus. This is especially true when he’s sidelined in the third act, which can’t help but feel like a misstep.
However, Brosnan is terrific as the world-weary Dr. Fate, who senses Black Adam’s powers could be used for good. He comes close to stealing the show, as does Hodge’s Hawkman, who’s presented as Dr. Fate’s protege. He’s a much harder-edged hero that takes too much pride in being essentially a peacekeeper for the mortal world. There’s an intriguing bit where Sarah Shahi’s character gives the JSA a hard time for turning a blind eye to the tyrants that have always run Kahndaq. They’re only concerned once they get a figure the people of Kahndaq can rally behind that isn’t easily controlled. If they were to spin off Hawkman, he feels like he could be a good foil for the anti-heroes in Peacemaker Season 2.
So indeed, Black Adam is a mixed bag. On the plus side, you have The Rock giving a fully committed performance, as well as Brosnan and Hodge. Then, on the negative side, you have too many side characters and – eventually – one of the weakest DC villains ever. He’s such a non-entity that he’s barely worth mentioning in the review – with him an obvious red-herring that’s supposed to be a surprise. Someone who was a legit physical threat to Adam should have been brought in, and perhaps that’s a problem with The Rock as an action star. He’s always presented himself as this singular force, with no bad guy – ever – a credible threat to him. (Speaking of credible threats, though – I must admit that if there’s a mid-credits reveal, I don’t know what it is. The version that was screened for the press when I saw it had whatever the scene was excised)
In the end, Black Adam is a giant scaled action flick, with Jaume Collet Sera doing a good job on the action scenes, which DP Lawrence Sher beautifully photographs. But, too often, the movie feels like a Marvel wannabe and not as distinct as – for better or worse – other DC movies have been. I have no doubt plenty of fans will love Black Adam, but to me, it felt like a tease of bigger things to come, whereas other DC movies focused on being a more singular experience. Perhaps this is a new way forward for the DCEU, but do we really need them to do exactly what the MCU is doing?