All that talk of Black Adam changing the hierarchy of power in the DCEU forever sure does set you up for a mighty fall. Especially when the superhero movie you’ve been hyping for a decade ultimately turns out to be yet another generic, forgettable entry in the increasingly lifeless DC movie timeline.
Therein lies the problem, really. Dwayne Johnson has been pushing for Black Adam to get his time in the sun since 2006, and it’s great when people manage to fulfil their passions, but the end result feels like a throwback to a 2000s movies. And no, that’s not a good thing.
The truth is, if Black Adam had been made many years ago, before the MCU conquered and then saturated the market, we would probably be losing our minds at what this action movie has to offer. Alas, we are in 2022 now, and the bar against which we measure great comic book movies is far out of Black Adam’s reach, no matter how powerful he may be.
Black Adam begins by showing us the history of Kahndaq in 2600 BC, where an evil king has enslaved his people in the pursuit of eternium, a mineral that will allow him to summon the powers of the Sabbac demons. When a young boy stands up to his oppressors, the people of Kahndaq have a hero, and he is rewarded with the magical powers of the wizards of Shazam.
Fast forward 5000 years and the Kahndaqi people are under the control of the Intergang, with their hero nowhere to be seen. In a desperate attempt at stopping the Intergang from gaining absolute power, Adrianna awakens the champion from his tomb and the one known as Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) must adjust quickly to life on Earth, and decide whether he is a hero, a villain, or something in between.
On the surface, that sounds pretty cool. But when you peel away the layers, what you have is an amalgamation of various other stories that have been done already. The hero lost in time was ticked off by the MCU character Captain America more than a decade ago. The super-being deemed worthy of magical powers is a well-trodden path. And the very concept of an anti-hero has already been beaten to death by Deadpool and his oh-so quirky comedy movies.
It’s not all bad though. The action set-pieces are unsurprisingly a highlight- after all, if there’s one thing Dwayne Johnson knows, it’s how to put on a good show when he steps into the ring. The first confrontation with the Justice Society in particular is a thrilling battle, but sadly this happens pretty early on, and by comparison, the grand finale is very underwhelming.
No superhero movie is complete these days without that desperate need to make its audience laugh, and much like the recent crop of Marvel movies, Black Adam fails more often than it succeeds in this department. There are some funny one-liners though, most notably from James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, whose Doctor Fate is undeniably the standout performer here.
As for the star of the show though, it’s a disappointing turn from Black Adam himself. You can normally count on Dwayne Johnson movies to charm the pants off you, but there just seems to be something missing here. In promoting the film, Johnson has been relentlessly enthusiastic, but that same passion just didn’t shine through in his portrayal of the character.
It seems a strange thing to criticise someone for, but perhaps Johnson is too invested in Black Adam. Perhaps he’s been willing this project into existence for so long that he’s lost sight of what the people want, or more accurately, those people have changed. In essence, Black Adam has become a time capsule of a production.
At its best, this is a film inspired by classic western movies, a story of a lone ranger who stands up for the little guy. It’s a story which offers some representation for Middle Eastern culture, though maybe not enough. And it’s a film which you can tell has been made with all the good intentions of providing some stability for the faltering DC universe.
Unfortunately, under this great burden, Black Adam is also guilty of being too sensible. You can’t please everyone, but you can certainly ensure you don’t piss anyone off too, and this film does just that. I may not feel positively about Black Adam, but I will probably forget its many sins (and the rest) soon enough. That’s not something that could be said of DC movies of old – here’s looking at you Joss Whedon’s Justice League.
At its worst though, Black Adam feels like the kind of movie Dwayne Johnson wanted to make all those years ago. Lorne Balfe’s score is uncharacteristically uninspired and incredibly reminiscent of the kind of music you’d hear in a cheap thriller movie from the turn of the millennium.
The inclusion of Kanye West’s 2010 song ‘Power’, while undeniably a great track, is perhaps most emblematic of how out of touch this film really is. Playing at a climactic moment, you just know everyone involved expected this choice of song to be a lot cooler than it actually was, but the Kanye West of today is not exactly a man who gets people as excited as he once did.
The camerawork of Lawrence Sher too – whose cinematography on Joker was sublime – feels overtly mundane and unnecessarily saturated by that trademark yellow palette that lets Western audiences know they are in a foreign land. Black Adam’s visuals should have transported us to a rich and invigorating landscape, but instead condemned us to a lifeless experience.
Ultimately, Black Adam is a two hour exhibition of some of the most generic elements the superhero movie phenomenon has established, with a few commendable moments littered throughout. There’s a fairly interesting plot twist, a smattering of entertainment in places, and the Black Adam ending is sure to pique the interest of many.
Has Black Adam saved the DCEU from self-destruction? Quite possibly. Has it changed the game when it comes to superhero movies? Not a chance. Was it worth the wait? Well, Doctor Fate posits it is better to have a bad plan than no plan at all. I’ll let you decide whether it’s better to make a bad movie, than no movie at all.
Black Adam review
After years of hype, Black Adam fails to live up to expectations, and indeed fails to offer anything other than your standard superhero movie fodder