‘Black Adam’ Has Potential, But Leaves Us Feeling Disappointed

For the life of me I will never understand why anyone would make a superhero movie with, perhaps, the most charismatic action star working today and decide, hey, what if we took away all that charisma? It’s truly baffling. And, look, if you want to make an argument, well, historically, the character of Black Adam is stoic and isn’t going to be delivering nonstop one-liners, well, I would counter that once Dwayne Johnson is cast as the lead – something he himself really pushed for – then there has to be a little leeway to reinvent a character that most people don’t know a lot about anyway. Yes, people have opinions on Batman and Superman. Not a lot of people have strong opinions on Black Adam. Anyway, “stoic” is what we got.

Look, Black Adam isn’t a bad movie. If we take a step back and look at what the DCEU has given us, I could make a case this is in the upper half of quality. This certainty isn’t an incoherent mess like, say, Marvel’s Morbius. The plot makes sense. And Jaume Collet-Serra is a good director and the movie is mostly competent. For me, it’s just a sense of disappointment. There’s nothing that interesting here, but there certainly should be. There are themes that are hinted at, or sometimes directly mentioned – for instance, at one point Black Adam is directly accused of siding with Western invaders over people from his own country – that could have been fascinating. But then they are quickly forgotten to, instead, bring us another CGI cartoon superhero fight that looks a lot like all the CGI cartoon superhero fights we’ve seen before.

Black Adam starts with one of those exposition dumps that includes a voice-over about events that took place 5000 years before. Anyway, a magic stone is found and a kid is transformed into another being named Teth-Adam (who will, eventually, call himself Black Adam). So, Teth-Adam uses his powers for revenge and the people who gave him those powers don’t like that, so Teth-Adam is sent away. So, 5000 years later a resistance fighter and professor, Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) discovers how to resurrect Black Adam (I’m going to refer to him as Black Adam from here on out) in an effort to help the oppressed people of Kahndaq.

But, you see, Black Adam is no hero. Or, at least he keeps telling us this, but never really does anything that bad. Sometimes he kills bad guys, but this is what every action hero in the ’80s and ’90s used to do. And most of the bad guys he tries to kill wind up being saved anyway. The only evidence we really get that Black Adam is not a hero is that he keeps telling us that while he’s hovering in front of the camera. (For whatever reason, Black Adam is always hovering.)

At this point, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides to call in the Justice Society to go talk Black Adam, who hasn’t really done anything that bad except kill some bad guys, into surrendering. Why the Justice Society? Your guess is as good as mine. There’s no explanation whatsoever why a superhero group that was historically active during World War II would be in this movie. It kind of presents a scenario where, in the DCEU, the Justice League and the Justice Society are both active superhero groups and Amanda Waller just has her choice on who to call. Sure, a case could be made that Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan, who got the memo this should be a fun movie) are old and are just still around with not much to do anyway (at one point Doctor Fate makes a direct reference to World War II). But their other two teammates are teenagers: Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). Maybe most people won’t really care. For me, it really was fun seeing Doctor Fate, played by an actor who played James Bond, in a live-action movie. But hierarchy-wise, I really couldn’t figure this out. My best guess is the Justice League, as a property, is still, let’s say, “creatively in flux,” and the people calling the shots just didn’t want to mess with it right now. So, instead, we get the Justice Society with no explanation.

(I’m going to harp a little on this. If this series of movies had some sort of cohesiveness by now – Man of Steel came out nine years ago, but feels like 20 somehow – we should be in a situation where the Justice League could just have rotating heroes on duty up there in the satellite and whoever is active would be called in to deal with this, which would be fun. And it’s sort of what this movie does – again, Doctor Fate is somehow in this movie and that’s very fun – only the workaround is, oh, this is the Justice Society, which makes no sense in this context. Anyway…)

Black Adam had a bunch of reshoots, which is normal these days for a movie like this. But it’s pretty obvious where these new scenes are. Before the reshoots, my guess is the consensus was, “this is dull.” So now there are scenes of Black Adam shooting a television showing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly just as Clint Eastwood draws his pistol. It’s this stoic film that’s not having a lot of fun, then will pause for some “inserted laughs.” But the problem is this movie is still just kind of dull. I found myself a little bored by the end, as the third act devolves into something nothing like the, at times, somewhat interesting first two acts as the Justice Society and Black Adam have to literally fight a hell demon. During the first two acts I still thought maybe something will be done with some of the themes that are introduced. They decided to go a, uh, different direction.

Again, Black Adam is a competent movie. (I hope that quote gets on a movie poster. “Competent!”) And a lot of plot complaints get overlooked when the lead of the movie is noticeably having a good time. Which is weird because we all know how much Dwayne Johnson wanted to play Black Adam, then comes out and gives us this deadly serious take on the character. Yeah, I get he’s the “bad guy,” but also (a) not really and (b) aren’t the bad guys supposed to be having the most fun?

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