The current state of the DCEU is a mess. From completed films not being released, to completed films that probably shouldn’t be released, it could spell the end for a burgeoning franchise that has only just made it to double figures. Were it no for the charisma battleship of Dwayne “Dwayne The Rock Johnson” Johnson and his Seven Bucks productions, it might have been the end.
Black Adam charts the story of Teth-Adam, a slave from 5000 years ago who, as legend would have it, became the hero of Kahndaq. In the present day Kahndaq is under the occupation of a private military company Intergang. When archeologist Adrianna Tomaz awakens Teth-Adam from his slumber he goes on a vengeful rampage requiring the intervention of The Justice Society.
Teth-Adam or Black Adam as he is better known has been a fan favourite for some time. Going back to around 2007 when Dwayne Johnson was announced to be playing him it’s been a long road to see him finally grace the big screen. Usually an antagonist (or villain) of Shazam, this film puts him in the anti-heroic category. A battleship of a man with a huge chip on his shoulder. Johnson has the ability to play these mythic roles, not forgetting his debut as The Scorpion King, he’s parlayed his mega-watt charm into many very fun roles. That’s gone in the film for a more subdued DC-style hero.
Re-teaming with Jaume Collet-Serra after the fun but forgettable Jungle Cruise, the pair craft a few very fun action sequences, and this is a film that’s mainly about rubble making action. A punch-up in a bedroom, a Rolling Stones’ backed massacre and a very stylish origin are all the highlights but a lot of the action is CGI based flying and punching which loses some of the character along the way.
Once The Justice Society – Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Dr Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) enter the fray the world building begins. It’s clear that Johnson wants to reshape the DCEU into a cohesive shared universe – a series a cameos aid in this – and foregoing a lot of origin and just having superheroes show up marks this as a different to the world of the MCU where we get origins for all of them.
A lot of the plotting is very basic stuff, and occasionally the jokes fall flat. Johnson and Brosnan are perhaps the strongest in the film, and an ongoing motif about sarcasm is very well judged, but it feels like they wanted a team not just Hawkman and Fate and so the other two tag along as younger heroes for a few fairly unfunny jokes. The meat of the story, about someone grappling with an inner rage that could destroy everything and his own regret is more interesting that the world building of certain government forces.
What the superheroes introduction to a military occupied country does offer is a comment on how these superhero stories act as a means of status quo. Teth-Adam breaks the status quo, and many many necks, liberating people while Hawkman’s belief that killing is wrong only preserves a status quo where people like Sarah Sahi’s Tomaz and her son Amon are threatened with death.
Much of the finale is CGI punching and yelling and while Collet-Serra tries to inject a little wit and style into it can’t quit escape the fact that it’s now the second time poor Marwan Kenzari has been reduced to a red-cgi yelling villain for a finale in a blockbuster.
As the soft-reboot it plans to be, Black Adam just about delivers on it’s promise of comic book world building, and Dwayne Johnson stoic looks, but aside from a few moments it can’t fully marry it’s more interesting ideas with it’s need to sell the tickets.