As the decidedly lacklustre year of superhero media is finally drawing near to a close, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson has arrived to shake things up (to change the hierarchy – if you will). The second hero wielding lighting-related powers this year to get his own movie, Johnson ('Jungle Cruise', 'Fast and Furious' Franchise) graces the big screen with his stoic glare and huge build as the titular character of Black Adam. Johnson has famously spent years talking about his excitement and passion to bring this character to the big screen, even dating all the way back to pre-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe times... when studios were not yet much concerned about building an intricately interconnected cinematic universe using their IP. But more on that later on!
'Black Adam' opens with the classic superhero film exposition narration dump, establishing his origin story as Teth-Adam in the fictional Middle Eastern Kahndaq. Tying in neatly back to 2019's Shazam! (Cinematic universe, people! Stay alert with me here), he was gifted with powers from the same gods, likewise being able to change back from his superpowered form to human form by saying "Shazam".
Jumping forward in time by 5,000 years, an imprisoned Adam is awakened accidentally by freedom fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi, 'Road to Paloma') as she searches for an ancient crown. This results in a rampage that soon catches the attention of Amanda Waller (the Academy Award-winning Viola Davis, 'The Woman King', 'The Suicide Squad'), who promptly orders the Justice Society of America (JSA) to fix and subdue. The DC Extended Universe has infamously been subject to constant changes in continuity and lineup, so much so that Davis' appearance as the no-nonsense Waller has started to become an assuring official certification that the DC film you are watching is definitely interconnected with the DCEU.
The JSA introduces new superheroes to the universe, from Aldis Hodge's ('One night in Miami...') valiant JSA leader Hawkman to the ever-cool Pierce Brosnan ('James Bond franchise, 'Mamma Mia!') as sorcerer Doctor Fate. Noah Centineo ('To All The Boys') has also been freed from Netflix romcom clutches to play Atom Smasher, a hero who can grow to "100 times" his size. Quintessa Swindell ('Master Gardener') is the centre of the film's most gorgeous visual effect sequences as the superhero Cyclone, capable of controlling wind.
'Black Adam' is a movie that cannot commit to what it wants to be, much like the titular character himself. Epic carnage action sequences, which are exhilarating to watch on the big screen, are quickly melded down just enough to reach a family-friendly movie rating. Save for a few stunning shots mainly with Cyclone and Doctor Fate, 'Black Adam' refrains from bringing anything new to the table; from sequences extremely similar to Marvel live-action heroes who have identical-looking powers to the JSA to a barrage of slow-motion speed-ramped shots extremely similar to Zack Snyder's 'Justice League'.
Themes and commentary are engaged with but severely underdeveloped, the movie pushing aside the emotional core of its story to take the easy way out by placing us in a colossal CGI third-act fight with a new villain. The theme of what distinguishes a hero or villain is familiar to comic book movies, and although 'Black Adam' checks off the list every story beat neatly with Johnson's terrifying Black Adam contrasting with Hodge's heroic Hawkman; it never brings an interesting retelling or new perspective than what we have already seen before out of the million superhero-related content released this year alone.
It never brings an interesting retelling or new perspective than what we have already seen before out of the million superhero-related content released this year alone.
The best part of 'Black Adam' by far are the gorgeous suit designs by Kurt and Bart, which are beautiful to see on the big screen. Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate in particular has one of the best comic book movie suits I have seen, and Quintessa Swindell's Cyclone's powers look unique and unlike anything we have seen before. Midway through the movie, you start to wonder why the DCEU did not give the JSA their own project before messily introducing them midway through their operations in 'Black Adam', where not a single character – supporting or main - gets enough expansion to make you genuinely care about them.
With a cast this clearly committed to their characters and visually trying their best, I swear I could physically feel Johnson's commitment and passion through the screen, so I cannot help but feel even more disappointed with how the film turned out. The cast is far from what bogs the film down, and I would definitely love to see them playing their characters in the DCEU again. If you've gotten a whiff of what the post-credits scene entails, we have to rejoice together! The JSA also seems to be set up for future movies, and I would love to watch them team up again in their own project with the addition of other JSA members like Hawkgirl.
'Black Adam' has been touted and heavily promoted as the film to change the hierarchy of the DC universe (Dwayne Johnson's words! Not mine), but trips over itself to bring solid support to an already precariously balanced cinematic universe. With a few cheap thrills, 'Black Adam' remains borderline exciting dumb fun film without managing to push the superhero genre or DCEU itself any further than a little nudge, despite the evident effort. As the DC Extended Universe reshuffles its movie release slate for the millionth time again ('Shazam! Fury of the Gods', please come home), as least I know I will get to see Academy Award winner Viola Davis in a superhero movie eventually again.