Smashing its way into UK and US cinemas today is the much hyped, and highly anticipated movie, Black Adam. The film – directed by Jaume Collet-Serra – is the latest entry in the DC Extended Universe, is a spin-off of 2019’s Shazam!, and follows the story of an ancient and all-powerful anti-hero, who is woken up in the 21st Century.
In the movie, Teth-Adam is a slave living in Kahndaq under the rule of a cruel king. But after being granted godlike powers from the wizard Shazam, Teth-Adam defeats his oppressor and frees his people, before seemingly being killed.
Fast-forward 5,000 years and in the present day, Adam is revived in the 21st Century. He wakes up in 2022 to discover that Kahndaq is now under the control of a gun-wielding crime syndicate known as Intergang, and this displeases him.
After taking out his rath on various members of the gang, Adam becomes a champion to the local people. However, he also draws the attention of government bod, Amanda Waller, who recruits the Justice Society (Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Cyclone and Atom Smasher) to ensure Adam doesn’t become a threat to the world.
Travelling to Kahndaq, the Justice Society have one goal: To peacefully capture Adam and put him in suspended animation where he can’t hurt anyone. But with Adam being hailed as a saviour, and possibly the only person who can overthrow Intergang, he is not going to give himself over to the Justice Society without a fight.
Black Adam stars Dwayne Johnson, Pierce Brosnan, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, and Quintessa Swindell. The movie is a comic book action film with Johnson playing the title character, and it is a motion picture which has been in development in one form or another for quite some time.
In fact, as Johnson reminded his 342 million Instagram followers only a few days ago (yes, 342 MILLION!), the initial rumblings of a Johnson-led Black Adam movie date back to 2007. This is when the actor was first linked to the role, and as the years have passed by it has become a bit of a passion project for him.
Johnson has become so committed to playing Black Adam, in more recent years as production started to ramp up, he has trained harder than he has ever trained before, to turn his entire body into a huge muscle mountain. Johnson didn’t just want to don a latex suit with built in abs to play the part, he wanted to bulk up and sculpt every inch of himself, so that he could be two or three times the size of Superman.
Dwayne Johnson’s dedication to this role and to this film, does have to be commended. He didn’t just want to show up on set, spout a few lines, and then slink off – he has been instrumental in its overall development.
The good thing is, all his hard work paid off. Not only does Johnson command the screen in Black Adam, just in terms of his mass alone, he is certainly it’s biggest asset.
There are several super-powered characters in this movie, and while some of them are really good (more about that in a moment), at no point do they take away the focus from the lead star. Johnson’s efforts in the gym have ensured that he is the standout figure in this picture, with no one stealing his spotlight.
I’m also pleased to say that he backs up his physical appearance with a solid performance too. As Black Adam, Dwayne Johnson steps back from his usual jokey roles, to deliver a far more serious character, and it works rather well.
As Black Adam, Johnson is commanding and dangerous, and yet still quite likeable. In taking on this role, and playing it the way he does, Johnson jettisons most of the charm that audiences have come to expect from him, but every so often he does show that little twinkle in his eye, to demonstrate it is still there.
He maintains his focus throughout and refuses to delve into the lighter places most of his usual characters go. And in doing this, he devotes himself to the part, remains steadfast in his approach, and I’d say this is one of his most understated, but arguably strongest performances to date.
But what about the rest of the film? Is Black Adam up to scratch or is Johnson the only highlight in this comic book caper?
Well, Black Adam does have problems, and I’ll get to those momentarily. However, I’ll stick with the more positive aspects of the movie for now.
One of those positives is the rest of the cast, who all give good performances. Aldis Hodge is pretty decent as Hawkman; Quintessa Swindell does what she can with a largely underwritten Cyclone; and Noah Centineo is a lot of fun as the size-changing Atom Smasher.
Then there is Pierce Brosnan who is superb as the mystical, mind-bending Doctor Fate. Bringing a certain suave coolness to the role, Brosnan becomes somewhat of a scene-stealer.
Sure, he can’t quite wrestle the camera away from Johnson, but he certainly gives it a good go. Every scene he appears in is a sheer delight and I expect he’ll become a new favourite character amongst some cinemagoers.
Moving away from the cast, Black Adam also benefits from some good costuming, as well as some decent visual effects. There is a ropey CGI villain who pops up during the final act, but putting him to one side, for the most part all the computer wizardry looks the business.
The film also has a couple of references to the wider DC Extended Universe, lots of spectacle, and a fan-pleasing mid-credit scene. There has been no official confirmation of a sequel to Black Adam (not yet anyway), but it is clear there is already an eye on where to go next, and the credit scene could offer up an exciting prospect.
So, all of this is the good stuff. It is just a shame then, there is some bad, and this begins with the writing.
Black Adam suffers very significantly from a poor script. The story is simplistic, it is all very predictable, and it never really attempts anything new or dynamic.
The movie is also heavily (and I mean heavily) weighted down by exposition. Characters can’t seem to go five minutes without having to explain one thing or another, and there is a lot of dialogue in this film that could have been simplified or reworked.
I understand that Black Adam is a new character for audiences, and those who have never cracked open a comic book may know next-to-nothing about him or the Justice Society, but this film sure does like to drone on a lot. Some of the exposition goes on, and on, and on, and then when you think it is done, it goes on some more.
Although, if the film isn’t throwing huge chunks of backstory and lore at the audience, then it is bombarding everyone with an overabundance of action. This film loves action sequences a little too much, and this also becomes problematic.
The film essentially plays out as follows: Exposition, action scene, exposition, bigger action scene. It then repeats this multiple times, with little variation, and the whole thing becomes quite exhausting.
I like action movies, but when there is so many explosions and fight scenes going on, it all starts to blur into one. It also doesn’t help that Black Adam bumps off so many characters, often with careless abandon, that every scene and every death becomes inconsequential.
I’ve seen Star Wars Stormtroopers with better life expectancy than many of the characters in this film. And this is a very significant issue, because if the movie doesn’t really care about all the deaths that take place, then why should the audience be that interested either?
There were times while watching this film that I felt as if I was viewing cut scenes from a computer game. That’s not really what I’m after when I sit down to experience a film.
As with a number of DCEU movies (Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad etc), Black Adam also falls into the trap of introducing a CGI villain toward the climax of the movie. This character feels shoe-horned in last minute, and his inclusion is an underwhelming way to finish the film.
Black Adam also maintains the frustrating DCEU stance that everything has to be dark and edgy. I’ll say it once again, for those at the back, IT REALLY DOESN’T!
There are some jokes in the film, so it’s not all doom and gloom, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more humour and a little less ‘edge’. I also wouldn’t have minded a few more scenes set outside the city of Kahndaq (which is where 90% of the film is set), to make the whole thing feel a bit zippier, and a lot less claustrophobic.
Now, all of that said, Black Adam isn’t a bad movie, and I found it enjoyable in places; but it isn’t a great movie either. It has many fine components (Johnson, Brosnan, the visual effects, etc), yet the good stuff gets scuppered by an underwhelming and generic script.
Had the writing been stronger, and had the film found another way to balance all of its action scenes, then it would be a much better film. I did find things to like in Black Adam, and I do think it is OK, but I wasn’t too fussed about it once it was all over.
The film is a 12A, and I believe anyone of this age range will be entertained with what’s on offer, however, for those outside of the teen demographic, this is largely a disposable action movie. Fun in places, and Johnson is great, but not the much-needed jolt the DCEU could benefit from.