Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writers: Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Pierce Brosnan, Noah Cenitneo, Quintessa Swindell, Sarah Shahi, Bodhi Sabongui, Mohammed Amer, Marwan Kenzari
Let’s get really honest for just a sec: DC and Warner Bros. haven’t exactly had a good time of it with their movies. Things started off okay with Man of Steel in 2013, but somehow everything seemed to go downhill from there. In my opinion, they fared a little better with 2017’s Wonder Woman, but again, things took a turn after that. The movies haven’t been particularly consistent or well thought out, and, frankly, Marvel Studios and Disney just do a far superior job of bringing a cinematic universe to life. Now, almost ten years after the DCEU began, we have the latest offering in Black Adam. Is DC finally breathing some new life into the worn out DCEU, or should Black Adam have remained buried for all eternity?
In 2600 BCE, an evil king rules the city of Kahndaq and creates the Crown of Sabbac, an object that gives the wearer great power. Then a young boy is bestowed with his own power from the Council of Wizards that allows him to overthrow the king and become the hero of Khandaq known as Teth-Adam. Fast forward to the present day, and Khandaq is again under a tyrannical occupation, this time by the crime syndicate known as Intergang. Adrianna Tomaz (Shahi) is an archaeologist and resistance fighter on the hunt for the Crown of Sabbac. On finding it, she is intercepted by Intergang. In the midst of their brawl, Teth-Adam (Johnson) is awoken. Adrianna’s son, Amon (Sabongui), attempts to convince Teth-Adam to help them take back Khandaq from Intergang, but Teth-Adam’s awakening alerts the Justice Society, who get involved after deeming Teth-Adam to be a threat to the world.
“Black Adam who?” I hear many of you say, and, well, exactly. Who the heck is Black Adam (also known throughout the movie as Teth-Adam), and why on earth, of the plethora of characters (hero or anti-hero) DC and WB could have chosen, did they opt for one that virtually no one outside of real comic book geekery has heard of? I can think of only two reasons: one is that Black Adam links into the Shazam side of things that the DCEU has been focused on, and the second is that the character and those around him offer potential for a more ethnically diverse movie and cast, something of which DC hasn’t really done yet. I’m all for being more inclusive, there’s no doubt about that, but going the Shazam route isn’t really for me. Just the word “shazam” makes me feel a little nauseated in its cheesiness, as well as using the term “wizard” for those with magic (the Harry Potter vibes are just too much). Give me a Bizarro movie any day, if you want to focus on a DC anti-hero, or Brainiac, if you want to go the full villain route, and then diversify the casting from there with these entirely fictional characters. Rewrite some origin stories to move outside of the USA, too. DC needs to focus on correcting the stories for their current and more well-known characters first before branching out to peripheral characters.
Ok, this is turning much more into a rant about DC and WB, so let’s talk some more about the movie. Story-wise, it wasn’t too bad. The themes are certainly clear to see, particularly that of oppression, and it’s an important one to bring to the table. Even the writing itself wasn’t too bad; DC have certainly had worse. The dialogue was ok, though the humour was cringe-inducing. It did do what DC do best, however, and introduce far too many characters that haven’t been seen in the DCEU until now, that mainly being the group of “heroes” sent by the Justice Society to reprimand Black Adam. Hawkman (Hodge) was too camp-looking in his costume; Atom Smasher was like a terrible knock-off of the MCU’s Ant-Man with worse humour; Cyclone was, well, unnecessary; and Brosnan felt like an odd choice of casting for Dr. Fate (though the character’s involvement was probably the only enjoyable one of the four). Black Adam as a character wasn’t too bad; he certainly lived up to the anti-hero mantle and proved that being a hero isn’t always about black and white choices (another theme that DC has dealt fairly well with in the past with Superman). Overall, the movie just felt like it was somewhat limping along, supported by the bare bones of some ok themes and dialogue.
As mentioned, the character of Black Adam wasn’t too bad, and Johnson played him as well as Johnson plays any understated character that doesn’t need a whole lot of acting skill, just some good moody expressions and a few lines of disconcerting dialogue. Supposedly this movie was his highest-grossing opening weekend for a movie in which he is the lead/title character. He must have some (well, millions of) extremely loyal fans. Shahi also did a great job as a female protagonist, her character being suitably well-rounded. Brosnan, despite being oddly cast, played his back-seat character well, always feeling present even when he was sat in said back-seat. The only real humourous character was Karim, played by Amer, who had great comedic timing and injected some fun into his scenes. Sabongui (Amon) has some way to go to become less dry in his delivery but has potential if he can gain the experience. Hodge probably had the worst of the scriptwriting, with the writers seemingly not knowing if they wanted him to be deadpan or comedic or something in between. Hodge did his best with what he was given, but the character was lacking overall. A similar thing could be said of Centineo and Swindell (Atom Smasher and Cyclone, respectively), who really felt like they were ripped off of the X-Men in DC’s attempt to bring in younger characters. They did their best but weren’t given much substance to work with.
Black Adam isn’t exactly one for the film history books. Perhaps it’s somewhat distasteful to keep comparing DC and Marvel, but when they are each other’s biggest competitors, it’s almost impossible not to. Black Adam just feels like another mash-up of DC trying to recreate Marvel’s movie formula and failing to capture the same magic and intrigue. So far one of the very few things DC/WB have gotten right was picking up James Gunn after he was fired (and subsequently rehired) by Disney from doing Guardians of the Galaxy 3. He at least brought some decent humour to 2021’s The Suicide Squad. He was thusly hired to helm the newly renamed DC Studios, so let’s all keep our fingers crossed that he could help salvage the burning wreckage that is/was DC Films and bring us something worth getting excited about. Personally, I feel like I’ve been waiting for Brainiac to make a proper appearance in a movie my entire life, and that’s no exaggeration. There have been many times in the past that Brainiac has been brought to the table, but then he’s always scrapped. Consider this my official plea to James Gunn to give us Brainiac and make him worth the wait, preferably in the next Superman movie. Perhaps I’m naïve as all heck to still hold out hope that the DCEU could pull it back, but it’s something only time (and talent) will tell.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR POST-CREDIT SCENE.
I knew it was coming. I wish I didn’t, I’d have loved it to have been a great surprise, but I did. Henry Cavill makes his official return as Superman after the credits of Black Adam. It’s exciting, as personally I think Cavill is a great Superman, but he’s yet to really get his teeth into the role properly. What really made this small scene exciting for me though, was the little motif of the original John Williams Superman theme from the 70s/80s. That was probably the best moment for me in the entirety of the DCEU. I gave me exactly what Superman represents: hope. Hope that the next Superman movie will be something special that we haven’t seen since Man of Steel… nay, since Superman II in 1980. I cross my heart with an S and will remain hopeful.