Warner Bros.

Interview: Editor Mike Sale Talks ‘Black Adam’ and Superman’s Return to the DCU

*Warning: the following interview contains spoilers for Black Adam*

After many years of development, Black Adam is finally here. And for editor Mike Sale, who was part of the editing team with John Lee, the movie was designed to be “a theatrical event. It should be a fun movie to see with an audience. We were looking to elicit reactions and for people to have fun. I think Dwayne Johnson is unbelievable as Black Adam. [Director] Jaume [Collet-Serra] did an incredible job designing the action setpieces and the look of the film. And to have seen the film in a theatre with an audience having a great time was super rewarding.”

For Sale, approaching Black Adam was highly exciting, mainly because he would be working on a superhero movie: “A lot of my previous work was focused on comedy films or action comedies. But when the opportunity presented itself, I was very excited to work on Black Adam. I’ve done other movies with Dwayne and his producers, but I thought this was a special role for him. I love anti-heroes, and I love the DC Universe. I go way back as a little kid to the original Batman TV series and the Superman series. Of course, the 1978 Superman movie with Christopher Reeve was massive, including all the different Batman iterations, from Tim Burton to Christopher Nolan, I just love that stuff. And being asked to be involved in it was a once-in-a-lifetime, special moment.”

Working on previous projects that involved Johnson, including Central Intelligence, Skyscraper, and Red Notice, helped the editor in tackling Black Adam, especially with how versatile the movie is in blending many genres together:

“People seem to like categorizing people’s work and say, “Well, this person does comedy, this person does this and that.” But the truth is, I think with myself, and with any good editor, you can do any type of project if allowed to do so. When working on a film, pace, character, and story are essential to an editor. They’re all part of the heart of the project.

A movie I could compare Black Adam to, and it’ll sound crazy, would be Bridesmaids. There are a lot of characters in Bridesmaids. It’s not just the story of one person. Black Adam had a lot of characters, so the question becomes, “how do you keep the pace going and develop the characters enough to make people interested in act three?” It’s the same kind of game. The great thing about working with Dwayne in previous movies is that I learned how to look for the pieces that pop.

Dwayne is a once-in-a-lifetime actor who can do so many things. Believe it or not, as popular as he is. I think he’s underrated as an actor. He’s way more versatile than I think people would think in this role. He said in many interviews for this film this is a role he was born to play. And I genuinely believe that. And it was easy to cut his stuff because he just crushed Black Adam from beginning to end.”

As Sale mentioned, Black Adam has a lot of characters in it. It moves at a breakneck pace, alternating between the JSA hunting for Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) in Kahndaq while also centering on a human story between Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), Karim (Mohammed Amer), and Amon (Bohdi Sabongui) as they are thwarted in the middle of the conflict, with Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari) transforming himself into Sabbac. For Sale, balancing both stories is tricky because you have to ground everything in reality:

“You want to create a reality that’s believable with real people. Because when something fantastical happens, it needs to feel real. Adrianna, Karim, and Ishmael are the heart of this story. I think the message we’re sending with this movie is good and timely. There may be people who would probably like this movie better if we were more clear about who was a good guy and who was a bad guy, and there could be a version of this movie where you can be highly cookie-cutter and clear-cut about that. But the thing about Black Adam as a character is that he’s an antihero. And so it’s unclear whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy. It’s not a straightforward thing. So that is threaded throughout the movie, including the themes of the JSA’s involvement in Kahndaq. Are they heroes? Is Kahndaq supposed to rise up? They’re not sure what to do. Those are deep themes for a PG-13 movie, but they’re always interesting. And I think hopefully what it does, is it creates a world that can be built upon.”

Sale described the experience of working with director Jaume Collet-Serra as highly collaborative and would consistently push him to make the director’s version of the film better than it already was:

“Jaume is incredibly generous creatively, meaning that he would let me try anything. I often failed, I made a lot of stuff where he was like, “I don’t like it. No – not good. Try again. Try another one.” And that’s a great thing. Everything we did, we did together. I’m not making Mike Sale’s version of Black Adam, I’m making Jaume’s version of Black Adam, but he always collaborates with everyone around him. The best thing you can do as an editor is present people with excellent stuff, and then you end up with an excellent movie.”

Sale also integrated many easter eggs for the fans to notice during the edit, but would like audiences to discover them on their own:

“There are a lot of little easter eggs for the comic book fans in the movie in various ways and little nods to things that I don’t like to give out because I think it’s more fun if people discover them on their own. If you watch the movie, you’ll notice there are a lot of little things in there. Even tiny details, things carved into the palace walls, and certain wardrobe choices. You can see why he has a cloak at the beginning of the movie. We wanted to keep as many things for the fans as possible. One that I will say, however, is that when he’s sitting on the throne, that’s an iconic frame from the comic books. So when you go to the theater and see that movie, there are certain people that cheer. And there are other people who are going, “why are they cheering?” We try to preserve that experience as much as we can.”

One of the moments where audiences cheered so loudly at my screening was when Superman (Henry Cavill) showed up during the film’s mid-credit scene. I obviously had to ask Mike Sale what it was like working on a project that saw the return of Cavill as Superman after years of rumors that he had left the role and wasn’t planning on coming back:

“As a kid who grew up watching and loving the Supermans ’70s and 80s, and who loves the Superman that Henry is playing, it was an honor. I think Henry is incredible as Superman. My wife and I were there on opening day when Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice came out, and she was crying when Superman was dying. We both have a deep affinity for the character. I watched both versions of Justice League and love the longer cut. I think that was so cool that Warner Brothers did that and gave it to the fans.

As a person who’s lived through all of this and is a fan of those movies, sitting in my editing room one day and suddenly seeing Superman in the film was a real experience for me. It was an emotional experience. I didn’t know if it was going to be in the movie or not. I wasn’t involved in those conversations. But that realization that I might be working on a movie that Superman is in, I never thought in a million years that would happen to me. I mostly do comedies and action comedies, so it was already exciting to be involved in Black Adam as a character, and the JSA, which I knew very little about before the project. But when I researched them and looked into the backgrounds, I’m like, ‘Oh man, these characters are cool. Hawkman [Aldis Hodge] is cool, Dr. Fate [Pierce Brosnan] could have five different movies, Cyclone [Quintessa Swindell] and Atom Smasher [Noah Centineo] look amazing.” They’re interesting characters that you could do a lot with going forward. So I’m hoping, like everyone else, that there could be a lot more of Black Adam and a lot more of the JSA and Superman. I’ve always been optimistic about the DC world, but I think they will have a great next step.”

Black Adam is now playing in theatres everywhere.


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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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