‘Black Adam’ is yet another DC misfire
Black Adam's first time out is a dud
Swooping in to spoil spooky season, the latest addition to the DC Extended Universe exacerbates the franchise’s identity crisis that has existed since its inception with Man of Steel in 2013.
Though Black Adam had been in development years before that Superman flick kicked off the shared universe, it finally lands with its original star attached and truckloads of marketing in its wake. It’s often said that movie studios look to replicate the “Marvel formula” when creating superhero films, but with this new offering, it seems Warner Bros. took their cues from Sony’s Spider-Man Universe instead.
Like Venom and Morbius, Black Adam has historically been depicted as a villain in the comics, but for the purposes of the movies, he’s now a misunderstood anti-hero.
Our story begins around 2600 BC in the fictional city of Kahndaq, where Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is bestowed powers by the Council of Wizards from Shazam! to escape a power-hungry king. In present day, archaeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) and her crew conjure up the super-powered Teth-Adam while trying to track down an artifact known as the Crown of Sabbac. Recognizing the oppressive crime syndicate Intergang as similar to the tyrannical forces he opposed thousands of years ago, Teth-Adam uses his powers to pick apart the mercenaries and liberate the people of Kahndaq. Concerned over the violent tactics that he uses to impose his will, the Justice Society of America, led by Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), look to set boundaries for the newly awakened metahuman.
Johnson is one of the most bankable actors on the planet, so casting him in a movie from what is easily the most lucrative film genre at the moment makes overwhelming financial sense for Warner Bros. The issue is that his Black Adam is a joyless bore, utilizing none of the charm or charisma that turned wrestler The Rock into action star Dwayne Johnson. There are some one-liners that work in the film, dutifully delivered by Brosnan and Hodge, but they’re all fish-out-of-water punchlines where Black Adam is the butt of the joke. Adrianna’s son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), is also meant to register as overly exuberant comic relief, but his fanboy giddiness while pitching catchphrases to Black Adam runs thin quite quickly.
Often, the secondary and tertiary characters are the most interesting ones that Black Adam has to offer, but even they feel carbon-copied from existing superhero fare. The breadth and depth of Doctor Fate’s powers aren’t clearly conveyed, but he shares enough in common with the MCU’s Doctor Strange that comparisons are inevitable. Justice Society of America newcomers Cyclone and Atom Smasher come across as retreads of Storm from the X-Men series and the Giant-Man from Marvel, respectively. Though these DC characters existed in comics well before their Marvel counterparts, this is the first time they’re appearing on screen, and it’s hard not to think they’re late to the punch. Additionally, the villain played by Marwan Kenzari may take the crown as the DCEU’s most unconvincing antagonist.
Black Adam doesn’t reinvent the wheel as much as Johnson is endlessly touting that it does on social media, but some of the action is more creatively violent than the DC movies have gotten. Sure, there are bloodless fight scenes and bodies being flung in the air with no thought to how they might land, but there are also moments of ruthlessness that are consistent with how the title character is set up.
But director Jaume Collet-Serra uses the same brand of speed-ramped phantasmagoria that Zack Snyder popularized in his contributions to the franchise. Not all of the CG effects look bad, but the shots that do look especially unconvincing recall Johnson’s dreadfully rendered Scorpion King character from The Mummy Returns more than 20 years ago.
Once Warner Bros. figures out how to implement Black Adam into their ever-expanding franchise, then he could serve as a nice counterpoint to the more straight-laced superheroes, but his first time out is a dud.
New movies coming this weekend
Opening in theaters is Prey for the Devil, a supernatural horror movie starring Jacqueline Byers and Colin Salmon about a nun who prepares to perform an exorcism and comes face-to-face with a demonic force that has mysterious ties to her past.
Expanding to local theaters is Till, a biographical drama starring Danielle Deadwyler and Jalyn Hall follows a mother who vows to expose the racism behind her son’s brutal lynching while working to have those involved brought to justice.
Premiering on Netflix is Wendell & Wild, a stop-motion horror comedy starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele about two scheming demon brothers who enlist the aid of 13-year-old to summon them to the Land of the Living.