Black Adam review: Disappointingly dull
The Rock as a superhero8
Laurence Boyce | On 10, Dec 2022
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Pierce Brosnan, Quintessa Swindell, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo
With the actual behind-the-scenes hierarchy of power changing in the DC Universe – with new DC Studios heads James Gunn and Peter Safran – Black Adam becomes a strikingly stark note on which the current iteration of the DCU could end. While it promises much – the introduction of Dwayne Johnson to the world of comic book adaptations, playing a character who riffs with the ambiguity of what being a hero actually is – it engages with too many of the tropes that have kept the DCU trailing behind the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
2600BC. The Kingdom of Kahndaq. The tyrannical king seeks precious metal Eternium to forge a crown of great power, rule over his people with an iron grip and make sure none of them ever point out how suspiciously similar a lot of this seems to Black Panther. But after a young slave boy is granted the powers of Shazam by the council of wizards, the king finds himself coming to an untimely end.
In the present day, time has not been kind to Kahndaq. Now under the influence of a criminal organisation, its inhabitants feel the weight of oppression and subjugation. To help save her country and her son’s future, archaeologist and freedom fighter Adrianna Tomaz leads a group to find the missing crown. But her search brings forth Teth-Adam (Johnson), imprisoned for millennia.
Initially seeming to be the saviour of Kahndaq, Adam dispatches Intergang forces with superpowered ease. Enter the Justice Society – Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) – who attempt to reason with Adam as he continues a magical rampage. As people begin to discover the true nature of who Adam is – and Adam decides whether he should be hero or villain – the world is set for a superhero showdown between those who want to rule the world and those who want to protect it.
Black Adam’s problem is that it doesn’t really do anything new to the paradigm of the comic book blockbuster. There’s a slightly clunky origin story with the requisite fight sequences inserted every 20 minutes or so. It’s all competently done, with director Jaume Collet-Serra bringing some solid set-pieces throughout. But there’s nothing here that’s new – at one point, it’s just another flying person with enormous power fighting another flying person with enormous powers and there are lots of big explosions and property damage as they throw everything but the kitchen sink at each other. It may seem jaded to say these spectacular set-pieces are a bit staid, but that’s the state of modern Hollywood filmmaking for you.
It’s not helped by the fact that the dourness that has become something of trademark of the DCU is out in full force. There’s little time for levity as the film tries to become a treatise on the nature of heroism and sacrifice. But it’s all a bit facile and the occasional moments of lightness seem forced. It does no favours for Johnson. While he’s undoubtedly an impressive physical specimen, he’s in possession of a charisma that relies on being slightly tongue-in-cheek. But by having to be all stoic and one-note, that charisma is slightly buried and his physicality can only take the film so far.
The rest of the characters are not much more than archetypes and ciphers – although there is some nice interplay between Hodge and Brosnan that provides a little emotional heft – and there’s little to add to the constant cycle fight sequences and moments of exposition.
Black Adam is not an inherently bad film. It’s just quite a dull one. Maybe it is indeed the time that the DC Universe undergoes a bit of a crisis and a reconfiguration of its identity as – while diehard fans will probably get enough out of the references and characters – most have seen it many, many times before.