Black Adam is the latest film in the DC cinematic universe (which is kind of up in the air about what direction it’s going in at this point). It stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in the lead role, who once again teams up with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed last year’s Jungle Cruise, though prior to this he’s been more known for horror films like The Shallows and Orphan.
Black Adam has been in the works for some time and was discussed even before Batman vs. Superman had come out. Dwayne had stood under contract and had secured the role for this film even back then.
Despite the fact that this film has been displayed with the idea of ‘What if Superman kills?’, Black Adam actually ties in more with the Shazam type of characters – he was pretty much Shazam’s arch-villain for quite some time, but DC does what they do with all of their popular villains, and has turned him into an anti-hero, which I think was purely done for the movie tie-in in this case. This will also probably explain why this character has been so prominent in DC’s most recent event comic ‘Dark Crisis’.
I personally didn’t see a reason to make this film, since I kind of think Black Adam works better as a villain than an anti-hero. In terms of what we’ve seen so far, he’s not incredibly interesting in this role. However, I was willing to give this movie a chance since DC is starting to get quite good at the standalone superhero films that they’ve been doing recently.
The film is about the titular Black Adam, an ancient hero known as Teth-Adam, who in ancient times became the champion of his home country Kahndaq, a fictional Middle-Eastern nation in the DC universe, after the overthrow of a tyrannical king, though the gods that gave him his power sealed him away. In later years, he’s unearthed by a freedom-fighting force, led by Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), though is now directly opposed by Ishmael, (Marwan Kenzari) who wishes to use the crown artefact to gain unlimited power.
The biggest problem with Black Adam is that it kind of meanders its plotline. It’s trying to introduce quite a few things into the DC universe. There really is a lot going on, and the film kind of moves back and forth on plot points. I do like the themes of imperialism and the potential harm that Western interference can cause when done blindly, which is mainly introduced through the Justice Society, though this incarnation of that team is done slightly differently, since the DC movies aren’t currently using the World War 2 era superheroes. They did manage to get in four of the iconic characters from the Justice Society comics, Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and younger versions of Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). Personally, I thought that the casting for each of them was pretty good, particularly Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate. A few people have compared him to Doctor Strange, even though Doctor Fate greatly preceded Strange in first appearances. It is implied that Doctor Fate is the only original member of the society and that the other members are taking over, we know that this is the case since Atom Smasher is the nephew of the original character, who is played by a cameo from Henry Winkler. He’s also not the only cameo, Viola Davis once again has a small role as Amanda Waller, who seems to be the only consistent character in this franchise.
Again, I did quite like the Justice Society in this film, and it didn’t feel as clunky as I thought it would in terms of its introduction, but that being said, I certainly wouldn’t want to see a full movie with these guys, I think that they’re better off as support characters for now. The film also tries to introduce a bit more of the magical elements to the DC cinematic universe, though much of it is brought over from Shazam.
As for the action scenes, they’re really good for the most part. Some of the shots and lighting means that the effects don’t look great, and you can see that at some points that the budget is a bit stretched, considering that a lot of the action scenes are cut a bit too quickly for my liking. The latter scenes are certainly the most impressive.
The major issue is the fact that the film doesn’t really have a consistent villain. It has the colonialist organisation that is currently violently oppressing the people, but there’s no figurehead – they’re incredibly faceless. There’s no real motivation for them to do what they do, no power structures in place, and it makes the whole thing feel a bit tacked on. Especially considering Ishmael, who betrays the group, is the new villain. I was curious where they were going with him, since I am quite knowledgeable on DC comics, but I don’t remember any villains being called Ishmael. I won’t spoil any DC comics, but I think that he’s going to become a villain that I quite like, but in terms of the films, he’s not there long enough to create a presence. There’s a good final fight, but that’s about it.
That sums up a lot of my problems with Black Adam, there’s a lot of good ideas here, and it nearly executes them all well, but it doesn’t quite nail it each time. I’m sad to say that this includes The Rock’s performance too. I’m a huge fan of The Rock, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps the script has failed him because, most of the time, he’s meant to act quite stoic, and he has many strengths as an actor but that’s not really one of them. He’s not really allowed to show off most of his personality which is quite a shame. I’m hoping that we’ll get to see more of that as these films go on, and I’m hoping to see more of The Rock in this role. He certainly comes into his own by the end of the movie, but the middle portions don’t quite nail it for me.
I also think that they have struggled to take Black Adam away from his villainous origins; he kills a lot of people in this movie! I certainly get why Black Adam kills people as a superhero, but as a whole, I kind of stand by not liking heroes to kill people, especially considering how things end between him and the Justice Society.
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