Introducing a new superhero these days feels almost like a novel concept. As much as origin stories are old hate for the genre, we haven’t had DC introduce a new character this big in a while now. With Black Adam, DC and Warner Bros. are hoping to really launch this anti-hero as the next great blockbuster lead. Having a real big star giving a star turn does help somewhat, but too little else here is on his level. Black Adam gets the title character right, but the film itself is far too middle of the road, otherwise. It ends up disappointing, while also intriguing you for the next Black Adam adventure.
Black Adam harkens back to a time where comic fare was all origin stories on the big screen. It also has many of the issues, too, including focusing too much on human characters, stumbling with their villain, and an overall feeling of indifference. The leading man is all-in, but no one else seems quite as invested. They’re doing the hard work of introducing the character, and they succeed in making me want to see more, but they fail in making a fully enjoyable adventure in the here and now.
After a prologue showcasing how 5000 years ago, Teth Adam (Dwayne Johnson) came to be bestowed with the powers of the Egyptian gods, including Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), only to be imprisoned after freeing his people, we enter the modern times. His country is occupied, with freedom fighters like Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) and her brother Karim (Mohammed Amer), hoping to change things. Knowing that the occupiers are looking for a crown that contains magical powers, they end up accidentally freeing Adam, who dispatches all with ease. Now that Adam has been released, he’s in their care, but a global threat. Enter the Justice Society.
Sent to handle Adam are Kent Nelson / Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Carter Hall / Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Maxine Hunkel / Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Al Rothstein / Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). They’re no match for Adam, of course, but when a new threat rises, they need to team up, for the fate of the world. By the end, the hero known as Black Adam will have been born.
Dwayne Johnson is the clear highlight here. He’s long wanted to play this part and does deliver. He looks the part of the hero and really invests in the role. Johnson is what works in Black Adam, even if everyone else is just fine. The non superhero characters, unfortunately, are massively uninteresting, while the Justice Society isn’t done, well…justice. Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge especially are wasted. Supporting players include James Cusati-Moyer and Marwan Kenzari, plus Viola Davis returning as Amanda Waller, as well as another cameo or two.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra is an interesting choice to helm. He has a good sense of action, but it all has a workmanlike approach. That would be fine if the script was up to snuff, but the writing feels like a leftover from a 90’s era superhero flick. Writers Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani, and Adam Sztykiel fill the film with too many old cliches and don’t focus enough on Black Adam himself. They never quite figure out how to make him the central figure you long him to be. The action works in the moment, but it doesn’t coalesce into something completely enjoyable.
Black Adam is a misfire, but has me interested in a sequel. The less we focus on a precocious kid, for example, as well as a less forgettable villain, and the more the focus can be on this powerful figure. If done properly, DC may have an Earth-shattering character to play with. This movie didn’t work, but the future for Black Adam remains promising.
“Black Adam is a misfire, but has me interested in a sequel.”
This sentiment made me wonder… how often does this hope get vindicated? I don’t mean that antagonistically, either; I genuinely don’t know what the hit:miss ratio is for would-be franchises whose first go-around was a dud, but formed the launchpad to something actually great down the line.
The only ones I can think of off the top of my head are Addams Family Values, one of the best dark comedies of the 90’s following up the pretty mediocre slapsticky The Addams Family, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban because… I mean, come on, having Alfonso Cuarón follow Chris Columbus of course results in a massive leap in quality. Oh, and also Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan! Yeah yeah, I know the first one has its defenders. I’m not one of them.
Any other examples I’m forgetting? How hopeful should we be that Black Adam II will live up to the promise that this movie only vaguely gestures at?
Not terribly often, give or take Thor with the last two outings. I’m more thinking of Black Adam being utilized without being the star, if there’s a future vs or team up coming. The character could play, just with different creative forces at work.
Although, one other thing to keep in mind… we’re hoping this will happen under a movie studio currently being strip-mined and sold off in pieces by David Zaslav.
Very true, unfortunately.