Finally, after a 15-year waiting period or an eternity in industry years, Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson) has made his arrival in the complicated extended DC universe. What was prophetically promised as a new hierarchy of power in the DC universe by Johnson in that span of time since being announced as the titular character, will have to wait a bit longer. Black Adam as a character is quite a formidable anti-hero, but the direction of where the DCEU is headed however is still an enigma, full of uncertainty and more questions than answers. At least for the time being, the upcoming slate is on its way but after that its anybody’s guess, leaving fans more cautious than optimistic for the fate of the universe.
Getting to this point of turning over a new leaf has been challenging – compared to Marvel Studios who has been thriving for the past decade plus, DC has struggled to complete a full lap around the track. Recently with James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker, the ship is being steered in the right direction putting the story and characters first above all else. One day, the rocky start may turn into something special, something that was promised based on the level of popularity and clout the DC characters hold over pop culture.
Until that day comes, each new entry into the expanding DC Universe with a few exceptions has fallen short, failing to live up to the magic the universe presents itself with. Dwayne Johnson’s arrival does call for a jolt of electricity, resurrecting what Zack Snyder began and what the new regime is making an attempt to recapture. Thanks to his clout as a performer and businessman, Johnson in 1 film did what was once thought impossible – listened to the fans outcry over the direction of the universe. Along with the new executive team, Johnson may very well be the answer to DC’s prayers.
In 2022, there has already been an overabundance of comic book movies and series that have released and Black Adam being the latest installment adds to the overall fatigue that has shrouded the genre. Taking place in another fictional city, Kahndaq, as most DC tales do, the story written by the trio of Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines & Sohrab Noshirvani leans heavily into the exposition of Teth Adam’s backstory and how he came into power by way of being chosen by the wizards of Shazam! and freeing the people enslaved by a ruthless king looking for a magical stone that possessed the power of Sabbac.
Once the film shifts gears into modern day, all the exposition dumps are forgotten when the same war that was fought in ancient Kahndaq is being fought with guns and a subtle hint of imperialistic oppression. Staying par for the course, Black Adam’s weakest link, among other aspects that can be argued, in the massive Dwayne Johnson armor is the villain Ishmael Gregor (Marwan Kenzari). DC still hasn’t cracked the recipe for bringing to life a formidable, multi-dimensioned villain. That throughline will hopefully come to a screeching halt now that new leadership is in place who has promised to right the wrongs on this lucrative universe.
Despite its many shortcomings, Black Adam thrives on its cast of characters. After Teth Adam is unleashed on the modern world by Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) and her brother Karim (Mohammd Amer), the Justice Society of America steps in at the request of Amanda Waller (Voila Davis) to limit the damage of Teth. Part savior, part misunderstood villain and antihero, Cater Hall aka Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Kent Nelson aka Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Al Rothstein aka Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Maxine Hunkel aka Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) team up to stop the destruction caused by Teth.
Anchored by his performance, Johnson gets lost in the role bringing the size, strength and charisma to the role that was expected. Whenever Teth is on screen, he commands the everyone’s attention delivering on the promise of a power shift on this planet called earth. When Johnson isn’t onscreen and the focus shifts toward the JSA, it’s the talent of Aldis Hodge and Pierce Brosnan that keep the film steadily on track. From differences in philosophies to fighting and leadership styles, Hodge’s Hawkman and Brosnan’s Doctor Fate nearly steal the show.
To balance the earnestness, the script attempts and fails to inject a sense of humor by Atom Smasher – falling flat, rarely garnishing a chuckle. Did the screenwriters think they can pull off a derivative sequence almost point for point involving the JSA and another group of well known characters? Don’t expect the humor of The Suicide Squad, Black Adam rarely has any fun even though overall this entry in the DCEU is a rousing good time.
Directed by a now frequent Dwayne Johnson collaborator, Jaume Collet-Serra, Black Adam dazzles in its high energy action sequences. Blended with slow-motion and visceral fight scenes, it’s the visual effects that stand out the most among a shallow story. All the effects of Cyclone’s skill set is married to a colorfully charged palette of striking imagery and power. Only a powerhouse ensemble can back up the size of Dwayne Johnson and they do – chemistry between the entirety of the JSA and Black Adam makes the film more enjoyable than it has any right to be. Going forward however is where the excitement lays – for the first time in a long time, the anticipation to see what comes next in the DCEU is one of hope.
As a standalone film Black Adam acts as a slingshot, a step in the right direction following the success of what James Gunn has accomplished. It’s exciting to be a fan of DC and the greatest comic book characters ever created.
Screenplay By: Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines & Sohrab Noshirvani
Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra
Music By: Lorne Balfe
Cinematography: Lawrence Sher
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Bodhi Sabongui, Pierce Brosnan
Release Date: October 21, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 4 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42%
Based On: Black Adam by Otto Binder and C.C. Beck