‘Black Adam’- Film Review: The DCEU’s Latest is Mostly Fun, Yet Messy

While many DC Films have their extreme highs and the lowest of lows, that could’ve gone either way with the long-awaited release of Black Adam, it’s always easy for many superhero movies to get the green light and come out in a few years. But this has been a tight passion project for lead Dwayne Johnson as he’d talked about playing the character created by Otto Binder and C. C. Beck for the past fifteen years. But it was finally time for him to take on this antihero to what many claimed to be a change of hierarchy for the world-building universe. 

In ancient Kahndaq, Teth Adam (Johnson) was bestowed the almighty powers of the gods. After using these powers for vengeance, he was imprisoned, becoming Black Adam. Nearly 5,000 years have passed, and Black Adam has gone from man to myth to legend. Now free by resistance fighter Adriana Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) after reading an incantation, his unique form of justice, born out of rage, is challenged by modern-day heroes who form the Justice Society of America (JSA): Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell).

Black Adam wasn’t spotted anywhere on a most anticipated list despite having The Rock in a superhero flick. Nothing from the marketing could make this origin story blast off to changing the game in the DCEU. This wasn’t even the movie I knew I loved since we already had The Batman and there’s more anticipation for another upcoming film with “black” in the title (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever). Being Pretty unfamiliar with the character from the comics, besides having a connection to the events from Shazam!, this had to be the most epic blockbuster to come out all year to show what it means to thrill audiences. But as expected, the second collaboration with director Jaume Collet Serra can only help to be somewhat mediocre to stay attached to when it’s over.

Honestly, everything from this was riding in and out of trying to enjoy what’s going on in front of the IMAX screen where it can’t help to feel like the most expensive ’90s comic book movie ever made. Of course, that instinct can sometimes work with a moral conflict to think about, but you can’t help noticing this offers nothing new to the genre as it’s predictable at nearly every turn and thinking back why it could’ve been a bigger deal than what most made it out to be. The first act didn’t sell me right away when it piles on the exposition and flashbacks to Tett-Adom’s backstory, along with a few characters I know I will only care a little for. However, when both Black Adam and the JSA arrived to stop the former with their different values from clashing, it managed to get a bit more interesting, not to make it entirely underwhelming.

Dwayne Johnson is a required taste nowadays for those who appreciate his skills as an action star. I’ve been a fan of his for ages, but even I know he’s starting to have a habit of playing the same character in his last few movies through his usual charisma. Luckily enough, his performance as Black Adam (a mixture of Superman and The Punisher) has him toned down as this God-like man who not only doesn’t want to be a hero; he doesn’t understand mercy, with no hesitation in causing death to those who appear a threat. Not the most outstanding performance in a comic book movie this year due to his limited emotions, obliviously, but you can see why he only had eyes on playing this character and nobody else in his career that’s almost the most different Johnson’s been in years, especially killing people and who he’s becoming a menace in the present to the JSA and an actual hero to the citizens of Kahndaq. He looked to be having fun filming this, so good on him to make this come to life finally.

Did I have any knowledge of the JSA? Wasn’t familiar before their introduction. They weren’t crammed into the plot, as I had anticipated, and neither were they. However, I discovered that, surprisingly, they were founded before the Justice League. Two of the four that are presented here stood out among the others. Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman convinced me he’s an actor capable of being a leading man, even if it means wearing a ridiculous costume the entire time under this material. And you wouldn’t expect Pierce Brosnan to kill it as Doctor Fate, a hero who can see the future through his Helmet of Fate, but an excellent character when showing his abilities in the fight. In their scenes together, Brosnan and Hodges made me want a prequel for them teaming up before these events. There’s also Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher and Quintessa Swindell’s Cyclone, who were fine, but felt like background characters of the team with little development outside of them using their powers too.

Collect-Serra taking on his biggest film to date lets him take on these action sequences that pack some needed energy to keep your attention long enough to forget specific issues for a second. Sometimes it gets pretty violet for what they can get away with a PG-13, yet it offers some cool ideas not to make them a rehash of what we’ve already seen in the DCEU. They’re entertaining enough to please audiences wanting a noteworthy popcorn experience that is loud and visually pleasing, mostly. The action stands out, though I wouldn’t say the same about the humor.

Maybe it’s on the writing for having an afterthought of a plot, but the comedy thrown in here were misses. Johnson’s deadpan jokes sometimes worked. Unfortunately, everything else didn’t even make me crack a smile. People complained too much about how Marvel’s usage of humor lately should look at this. I didn’t care for them, whether it was from Atom Smasher or the forced jokes from Adriana’s son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui). And don’t get me started on the slow motion. At first, it was to stow off Black Adam laying waste to an army of troops set to The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” but it was like this came straight from Zack Snyder’s playbook to overuse it during later sequences they stopped being impressive quickly. One fight in particular with Black Adam and Hawkman went WAY overboard. There are also some random needle drops, including the worst time to use Kanye West’s “Power” for 20 seconds.

Yet, if there’s one thing we can all agree is that the film’s biggest failure is that this got itself the most forgettable weakest villain in years, and it’s probably why none of the trailers rarely showed who it is. I am trying to remember his motivation or the MacGuffin to come to life. This could’ve been just about Black Adam vs. the Justice Society not bringing in a generic CGI villain at the last minute because the plot says so that’s worse than Zeus in Wonder Woman or fake ass Steppenwolf in Justice League‘s theatrical cut. Instead, the entire third act needed to be faster to set up, and once it got there, nothing was captivating, instantly forgetting what happened a day later.

Compared to other movies within the DCEU, this is right on par with Aquaman, which both get by in its visual style and not on its unique storytelling. This is one I can see people finding liking it or not; I walked out of Black Adam not being enthusiastic about those two hours. That being said, I don’t mind seeing this character again in a potential sequel as long as it improves aspects to consider it spectacular. And with the mid-credit scene that’s been the talk of the town, even though it was already spoiled online despite knowing what happens, I’ll admit it got me to smile for what’s to come next.

Black Adam is a mixed bag for the DCEU’s latest. On the one hand, the script’s formulaic and suffers from heavy exposition. But on the other hand, Dwayne Johnson’s introduction to this universe, visuals, and most of the action sequences shine. One of the more disappointing superhero movies to come out that could’ve defeated those low expectations. 

Grade: [C+]

Black Adam is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 125 Minutes. Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Strong Violence, Intense Action and Some Language. Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures/ New Line Cinema.

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