The buildup to the release of Black Adam has almost been an event in of itself for those who follow the DC Universe or the career of popular leading man Dwayne Johnson. For years, Johnson has teased how “the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe is about to change” with the emergence of his new anti-hero on the silver screen.
It’s not the catchiest tagline in cinematic history to say the least, but it’s an appropriate one nonetheless for both the DC Universe and the real-life business forces behind it. It feels as though DC is woefully behind its comic book counterpart in Marvel when it comes to making hit movies and TV shows.
If all goes well, Black Adam could help change that, ahem, hierarchy by providing DC with a star action hero who seems willing to do whatever it takes to push his character to the highest of heights possible.
With such obvious motivations to make Black Adam a success, it’s even more shocking how confounding some of the decisions made in the final product are then. The film rushes key storylines and developments, if they even truly ever exist in the first place, in order to hurry along to one overcharged fight scene after another with little time for even the most basic of explanations for massive leaps in logic.
Black Adam often ends up feeling less like a movie and more like a statement, one that seems intent to say what it feels it needs to say to make its main character a star and omit anything less along the way. It almost comes across like a marketing campaign blown up to epic proportions, one big giant trailer for the world to come around it.
That world in which Black Adam inhabits, one which the movie stresses as an important aspect to Adam’s past and current life, fails to ever truly feel like the rich culture crippled by invading influences that it’s intended to be at the onset. Adam’s home of Kahndaq ends up more like a half-baked backdrop intended to force a more poignant message that a movie like this is simply ill-equipped to send.
Movies that want to send those kinds of deeper societal messages need to show the dedication required to do them true justice and Black Adam is just not that kind of film. As a result, Kahndaq and the people residing in it frequently amount to little more than plot devices to justify Adam’s need to punch some bad guys.
The movie treats the Justice Society, one of the most storied groups in comic book history, with the same kind of disinterest as the film’s locale. While viewers are evidently supposed to care about the fates of this foursome, there’s really little explanation as to why. In fact, there’s little explanation as to who the Justice Society actually is in the first place.
Characters like Hawkman and Doctor Fate, while longtime members of the DC comics pantheon, are likely virtual strangers to most. If it weren’t for the fact that the perpetually classy Pierce Brosnan plays the good doctor, there would be very little reason to care for him. The same is true about the smoldering intensity Aldis Hodge brings to Hawkman, quality acting but oftentimes without a purpose in the context of an unknown character.
It’s almost as if DC worried too much about the glut of superhero origin stories on screen these days and decided that this collection of C-list heroes was somehow familiar enough to warrant jumping right into their current adventure. Viewers never see much more than vague hints to these characters’ origins, how they initially began teaming as the Justice Society or even why they have such a tight bond as both friends and superhero partners in the fight against crime.
Strangely enough, complaints like those are almost entirely unnecessary too. If the movie just embraced its true purpose as a star vehicle for Dwayne Johnson, nothing more or less, then there might’ve been a much better film here.
The fact that Black Adam tries to introduce a rich and complex storyline about culture and introduce an entirely new team of heroes along the way muddles what’s actually a rather fun introduction to the movie’s titular character.
Black Adam receives just enough of a spotlight and backstory to make you want to see more. Johnson’s mix of hulking muscles, brooding demeanor and always on-point comedic delivery makes his anti-hero stand out amid a sea of smart aleck Marvel do-gooders and Adam’s own oftentimes bland DC counterparts. Johnson’s delivery isn’t quite on par with the character work of say, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, but the fact that it sometimes feels like it might be in the same ballpark is probably the best compliment this movie could receive.
Black Adam should have just taken a laser focus to Johnson’s character and really let him develop in front of the audience’s eyes instead of trying to jam the film full of competing plots. Lots of Black Adam’s development seems to happen at a moment’s notice, from small quirks like developing a wry sense of humor to large character shifts like embracing his role as a protector rather than a destroyer.
It’s as if Black Adam knows it’s central thesis of exploring what lines a hero can cross to truly be worthy of the title is too well-tread to be compelling for its full runtime. The movie then squeezes itself full of enough characters, plot threads and bombastic fireworks to try to make the movie exciting and meaningful when the reality is much simpler.
Black Adam’s core message really does feel like a necessary critique of the superhero genre. It’s no Watchmen, let’s not go crazy here, but it is a successful example of a different approach to superhero storytelling. Combined with a compelling hero, and perhaps pared down to a more essential story on the effects of colonization sans the Justice Society, Black Adam would have been a great movie. Instead, the end result is a passable popcorn flick, but rarely the sort of electrifying performance Johnson and DC wanted.
Spotlight Score: 6/10