The eagerly anticipated Warner Bros. film Black Adam, which stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is a one-note show for kids about how great murder is.
Since Warner Bros. first embraced the legitimately original notion of portraying Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a terrifying Superman counterpart most known for fighting with kids, Black Adam—their most recent superhero film based on DC’s comic books—has been in development. You can clearly see how much trust and hope Warner Bros. has put into the notion that a darker, more ruthless antiheroic figure would be just what its struggling cinematic universe of cape pictures needs to emerge from what appears to be a death spiral in Black Adam. It’s more difficult to see, though, how anyone at Warner Bros. could have seen the finished Black Adam and failed to immediately identify it as another illustration of how chaotic the DCEU has become.
Director Jaume Collet-film Serra’s Black Adam tells the tale of Teth-Adam (Johnson), a legendary demigod with magical powers who initially lived on Earth as a human man thousands of years ago in the fictitious Middle Eastern nation of Kahndaq. While the majority of Black Adam takes place in present-day Kahndaq and follows Teth-Adam as he struggles to comprehend what happened to his country after he mysteriously vanished one day in the past, the film also frequently flashes back to Teth-life Adam’s as a regular man in order to help the audience better understand what motivates him.
Teth-Adam was one of the numerous slaves Kahndaqi who were made to mine their land for its Eternium, a bright rare metal whose qualities are never properly explained, by their oppressive monarch before he transformed into a monstrous, invulnerable thunderstorm shaped like a professional wrestler. No one ever ventured to rebel against their rulers, as brutal as life under their king was, for fear of death. But the opening sequences of Black Adam show how, one day, everything changed owing to Teth-son Adam’s Hurut (Jalon Christian), a little kid whose act of disobedience started a revolution and ultimately resulted in his death.
Even though Black Adam’s past has always been crucial to understanding him as a character, one of the first indications that Black Adam’s script isn’t quite on point is the way it slowly reveals what happened to his family while simultaneously being vague about some very apparent elements. After professor Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) uses the word “shazam” to awaken Black Adam from a centuries-long hibernation, it’s not difficult to deduce the important information he’s keeping hidden in the present. To be honest, Black Adam doesn’t really try to keep the mystery a secret or make it compelling because, once Teth-Adam is operating in contemporary Kahndaq, the story dramatically changes course to centre on delivering its lead character the flashiest, most murderous debut the DCEU has ever seen.
Black Adam smacks you over the head with the notion that Kahndaq has been continually besieged, occupied, and in desperate need of a HeroTM over the years, much like Teth-Adam frequently batters his foes with his fists. Teth-Adam might not have realised how superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are to the contemporary world what the Champion of Kahndaq once was if it weren’t for Tomaz’s cape-obsessed son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui). Black Adam begins, however, to do what just much every American superhero movie does: find a variety of different methods to make murder appear awesome, as Teth-Adam comes face to face with the first of the many groups of soldiers dispatched to eliminate him once he awakens.
As many superheroes as DC’s portfolio of intellectual property has, Hollywood has only come up with so many creative ways to portray them and their abilities on the big screen. Instead of putting Teth-Adam into creative situations meant to showcase his abilities, Black Adam is replete with visceral 300-style action sequences that slow down and speed up to emphasise how unfazed the demigod is as he is zapping people with lightning or tossing them into the sky before their spines are crushed. However, because the film never really takes an effort to explain Black Adam’s worldview or how he feels about… anything, its attempt to present him as a serious, self-assured arbiter of justice instead makes him out to be an unappealing sociopath à la Brightburn.
We all know how irresistibly captivating Johnson is capable of being, even when he’s playing characters that you aren’t exactly meant to regard as “nice” people. This is a large part of what makes Black Adam feel like such a peculiar misfire. As Black Adam introduces a peculiar new iteration of the Justice Society of America composed of Carter Hall / Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Kent Nelson / Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Maxine Hunkel / Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Albert Rothstein / Atom Smasher, you can see hints of that magnetism and how much more compelling it might make Teth-Adam (Noah Centineo).
When the JSA arrives in Kahndaq to battle Teth-Adam, Black Adam is reminded of how entertaining and action-packed superhero stories can be, despite how serious its primary characters may be. The film’s action sequences featuring Cyclone’s sky-dancing aerokinesis and Doctor Fate’s theatrical parlour tricks are some of its most memorable, in stark contrast to the uninspiring way Black Adam displays Teth-strength. Adam’s Although Hodge’s Hall has a charm and worldliness that quickly piques your curiosity about him, his squad, and what type of presence they have outside of Black Adam, Hawkman has never really needed the kind of rebranding that helped everyone take the DCEU’s Aquaman more seriously.
Unfortunately, the JSA’s entrance in Kahndaq and the way Black Adam sets them against Teth-Adam demonstrate how reluctant the film is to address our popular culture’s fascination with mythical superhumans sworn to save humanity. Teth-response Adam’s to visiting alien vigilantes with nothing but wrath and thunderbolts would make perfect sense. However, Black Adam doesn’t go that far, both because Warner Bros. is aware of how unsalvageable it would make the character appear to the public and because the company has some very clear plans for him in the future.
Both Black Adam and its mid-credits scene will satisfy fans who have been yearning for a huge, bombastic celebration of how powerful Black Adam is while also removing the majority of the narrative framework that makes him work in DC’s comic. But there’s always a chance that the next movie Black Adam appears in might be a decent one, so there’s still hope for anyone thinking that Black Adam might genuinely usher in a new era of great and meaningful superhero flicks from Warner Bros.