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Black Adam Review

October 21, 2022 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Black Adam Dwayne Johnson The Rock Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
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Black Adam Review  

Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written By: Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, & Sohrab Noshirvani; Based on the DC comics and characters created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck.
Runtime: 124 minutes
MPA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, intense action and some language.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – Black Adam/Teth Adam
Aldis Hodge – Hawkman/Carter Hall
Pierce Brosnan – Dr. Fate/Kent Nelson
Sarah Shahi – Adrianna Tomaz
Bodhi Sabongui – Amon Tomaz
Mohammed Amer – Karim
Noah Centineo – Atom Smasher/Al Rothstein
Quintessa Swindell – Cyclone/Maxine Hunkel
Marwan Kenzari – Ishmael/King Ahk-Ton
Viola Davis – Amanda Waller
Jalon Christian – Hurut
Henry Winkler – Uncle Al
Djimon Hounsou – Wizard/Shazam

Dwayne Johnson’s decade-plus journey to portray Black Adam finally comes to fruition with the latest big-budget, cinematic installment of the DC Universe. This character caught Johnson’s interest many years ago, and it’s very much a passion project for the actor. Unfortunately, the refashioning of the villainous Black Adam as a dark, brooding antihero is not all it’s cracked up to be. As a character who is supposed to be edgy, dark, and do the things that other superheroes will not, this version of Black Adam lacks any real bite.

Utilizing the more modern, updated comic origins of Black Adam, this version of Teth-Adam (Johnson) was born a slave in the ancient African kingdom of Kahndaq under the tyrannical rule of King Ahk-Ton (Kenzari). The imprisoned and disenfranchised people of Kahndaq seek a champion to lead them to freedom. An order of sorcerers, led by the Wizard Shazam (Hounsou), grant their vast powers to an enslaved citizen of Kahndaq to free his people and assume the role of their champion. After a confrontation with Kahndaq’s despotic ruler, the supposed champion Teth-Adam disappears forever.

Years later, Kahndaq is now under the control of Intergang, re-envisioned here as a militant mercenary group. Intergang seeks an old relic, a crown forged in an ancient mineral, Eternium. University professor-turned-Kahndaq-freedom-fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Shahi) seeks to obtain the crown before Intergang can get their hands on it. Adrianna does not realize that one of her cohorts, Ishmael (also Kenzari), is the leader of her enemies. After discovering the crown’s location, Tomaz uncovers that the ruins harbor the tomb of Kahndaq’s former champion, Teth-Adam, whom she frees from his enforced sleep of multiple millennia. Teth-Adam is back and does not care about playing by the rules when it comes to dispatching his enemies. Much to the chagrin of the Justice Society, his activities are led by Hawkman (Hodge), who has been sent to Kahndaq by Task Force X’s Amanda Waller (Davis) to contain Teth-Adam. However, the mystical Doctor Fate (Brosnan), one of the longtime members of the Justice Society, sees potential within Teth-Adam to become something more than an object of destruction, when the people of Kahndaq cry out for a champion and retribution from Intergang.

Despite The Rock being well known for his charisma and outgoing personality, his performance as Black Adam is incredibly subdued, much to his detriment. The Rock simply does not perform stoicism very well. His performance comes off as very stiff and flat. It’s reminiscent of the early days of his acting career, much like this movie. Adam is a very one-note, dull character who seems to have only one mode: stoic, brooding antihero.

Trying to refashion Black Adam into the hero of his own movie achieves very mixed results. Black Adam does not naturally lend himself to a solo movie, and the results tend to show that.

Elsewhere is the Justice Society, and their material is far livelier and more interesting. While their scenes, relationships, dynamics, and interactions are probably the best and most entertaining ones in the movie, it is not to the film’s overall benefit. The Justice Society’s presence only demonstrates that a movie starring this version of the JSA probably should have been made, rather than a story about Black Adam’s reluctant hero’s journey.

Pierce Brosnan emerges as the true star and show-stealer of Black Adam, portraying Kent Nelson, aka Doctor Fate, in the character’s big-screen debut with an understated sense of melancholy and wistful world-weariness. If Black Adam was able to nail anything from the world of DC Comics, it is Doctor Fate. In terms of showing there is magic in portraying comic book characters and stories on the big screen, the sole brilliance of that idea emerges in Doctor Fate’s appearance in this film, thanks to Brosnan’s strong performance.

While Doctor Fate may not be a deep cut from the comics, he is certainly far more of an obscure character compared to Batman or Superman. So, it’s fun to witness Doctor Fate depicted so well on the big screen; big, shiny, golden helmet, cape, blue pajamas, and all. Pierce Brosnan imbues his Doctor Fate with a very regal air. He exhibits a very posh British style and sense of nobility, but that does not make him any less worldly or compassionate. In contrast to Johnson’s performance, Doctor Fate’s sadness plays authentically and genuinely.

Aldis Hodge manages to do a lot with very little as Hawkman, considering he is given next to nothing in terms of a backstory, and he is the chief antagonist to Black Adam for most of the movie. Hodge’s Hawkman at least comes off as more relatable and likable than Black Adam, even though the plot constantly shows him messing up or in the wrong. Once again, it seems like this should have been a Justice Society movie rather than a Black Adam one since the Justice Society heroes all come off better or with a little more punch.

Another problematic aspect of the movie’s narrative is the way it sets up the rivalry between Hawkman’s noble, strict, law-abiding voice of reason versus Adam’s attitude of “the ends justify the means.” The film delivers Hawkman’s traditional ideas of heroism versus Adam’s brand of antiheroism in an incredibly heavy-handed, haphazard way that lacks nuance or depth.

Equally problematic is the film’s delivery of Amanda Waller, who has now become the DC film universe’s own personal Nick Fury. Hawkman’s relationship with her, and Waller’s own standing in the DC film universe, are confusing in light of recent events. His willingness to work with a person such as Waller is puzzling considering his strict moral code. Black Adam and Waller should have a much easier time finding equal footing and a way to negotiate favorable terms over Waller and the Justice Society based on how events in the movie, and previous DC Universe films, unfold.

Black Adam has an awkward sense of pacing. The film progresses in a very choppy manner. Certain scenes play like some important dialogue or specific moments of exposition were left on the cutting room floor. Black Adam struggles to build up to a major plot twist that all the trailers literally spoil in all of about two seconds.

The biggest issue is that Black Adam never truly emerges as a fully realized character. Unfortunately, The Rock portrays Black Adam with the personality of his namesake. He is a wrecking ball that merely has to be pointed in the right direction. Even when the film does attempt to develop Adam and provide him with some pathos due to his tragic backstory, it comes off as half-baked. Johnson appears stuck in stoic autopilot mode.

Considering the group’s history and potential, Intergang is wasted and woefully underdeveloped, as is the film’s main villain. The villain, who shall remain nameless for now, is a complete and total afterthought, and the character only comes into play when the heroes need a real threat and shared enemy to punch. The hidden villain is even more of a plot device than Black Adam himself. A plot like this called for a villain with a much stronger personality and characterization, which the antagonist in Black Adam simply does not have.

The film also has no shortage of annoying characters. Chief among them is Adrianna’s fanboy son, Amon (Sabongui), who seeks to tutor Adam in the modern ways of super-antiheroing. He also manages to repeatedly outrun, outwit, and outsmart the heavily armed but hapless thugs of Intergang with nothing but his skateboard. He is the type of kid sidekick character that brings down similar movies, and most of his dialogue is awful.

Collet-Serra’s direction is a mixed bag. There is always plenty of action mixed in throughout the 124-minute runtime, but much of it lacks cohesion. The first half is rushed in building up Black Adam’s rebirth and clash with the Justice Society. The build to the climax is equally rushed, and the exposition dumps are clunky.

The CG visuals are copious and less than impressive, as far as comic book superhero movies go. One off-putting aspect is that Collet-Serra’s visual style frequently utilizes that familiar slow-motion to speed-up motif, and not in the most effective way. The drawbacks of that visual editing style are most prevalent when Black Adam and Hawkman wreck a kid’s room full of DC Universe collectibles and memorabilia.

As an exploration into the benefits of anti-heroism in the DC film universe, Black Adam falls flat.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
DC's Black Adam is lacking. The Rock leans too hard into stoicism for his performance, so much so that Black Adam never truly comes into his own as a character. The narrative is incredibly rushed, and the editing is very sloppy, making Black Adam progress in a rather choppy manner, as if some important scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Certain mileage may vary here. Black Adam is incredibly action-packed, and some of the action isn't bad. The message of a hero with a slightly darker edge lacks nuance. Collet-Serra and The Rock treat the material with the subtlety of a boulder. That can work when delivering big superpowered action and thrills, but less with the characterizations. The heroes of the Justice Society emerge as the most compelling and interesting characters in the film, which is a bit problematic when the name of the movie is Black Adam and not JSA.