So after being officially cast as Black Adam back in 2014 (!?), Dwayne Johnson finally makes his DCEU debut as the morals-free, anti-Shazam with the hefty promise that the movie comes with a significant shift in power both on and behind the screen for the long suffering comic book movie franchise.
The behind the scenes issues of the DCEU has been essentially one long, ongoing cock fight that’s seen directors and actors go to war with the very hierarchy of Warner Brothers itself that’s seen movies either butchered, begrudgingly re-released and even binned entirely despite essentially being finished so perhaps its oddly fitting that Johnson’s ridiculously broad back would prove to be a possible bedrock to reset the foundations of such a shaky universe.
But is it though? Can the long awaited debut of a super-being that causes chaos wherever he goes finally bring peace to a franchise in such turmoil?
After a lengthy, yet well balanced prologue set in 2600 BC, we are introduced to the beleaguered city of Kahndaq whose people has been enslaved to mine for an element known as Eternium in order to fashion the Crown of Sabbac so to grant the king unlimited power. However, the legend tells of a young slave who was given the power of Shazam (yep, that Shazam) to become a hero to his people and bring the king’s reign to an explosive end.
Fast forward to the present day and Kahndaq still hasn’t had any better luck with invading rulers as after a string of invasions, the city currently finds itself oppressed by the heavily armed syndicate, the Intergang who also is mining to find that aforementioned crown of hellish power. However, a small underground resistance in the form of archaeologist Adrianna Tomaz, her precocious, teenage son, Aman, her comic relief brother and a couple of others strive to find the crown first but after getting caught by enemy troops, Adrianna summons Teth-Adam, Kahndaq’s legendary hero from his tomb who subsequently murders every bad guy in sight.
However, Teth-Adam, despite being a relentlessly scowling engine of destruction, might not actually be the hero rhe legends have made him out to be and soon professional superpower manipulator, Amanda Waller, uneasy that there’s yet another God-powered wild card on the scene, urges superteam The Justice Society to get involved.
Butting heads with Adam repeatedly over their competing ideologies, winged brawler Hawkman, reality fiddling Doctor Fate, size changing Atom Smasher and the blustery child-genius Cyclone soon discover that the amoral superbeing is, in fact, a legitimate threat, but he may be preferable compared to the pland the Intergang has for the Crown of Sabbac…
Seemingly made for those fed-up with super-hero movies trying bold new things, Black Adam whisks us back to the days of 2013 when superhero movies could trash large sections of an entire city and conveniently just not mention the devastating cost of causally punching a man through a populated building. On one hand it’s perfectly understandable considering the DCEU has been scrabbling for some steady ground to build a foundation on for years and it’s genuinely pleasing to see the numerous links to other, past movies such a lavish adherence to Shazam’s established lore (hello again to Djimon Housou’s wizard), the appearance of Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller and a further, seismic cameo lurking during the post-credits sting. Also promising is the addition of some more DC mainstays which expands the overall hero roster nicely after years of solo adventures and villain teams. However, for all of Black Adam’s good intentions (the movie I mean, Black Adam himself is famously short or any such intentions), this timely bout of connective tissue often refuses to make any logical sense. Why is the message of the movie that Black Adam maybe shouldn’t kill when we’ve literally had an unending stream of movies featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman slaughtering whomever the hell they want, whenever they want? Similarly, if the whole point of either version of Justice League (Whedon or Snyder: pick your poison) was that they formed to fight Steppenwolf because there want anybody else – however, Black Adam hints that the Justice Society have been together, smiting worldwide problems for quite a while which is somewhat contradictory, unless they all took a gap year around the time Supes died.
Universe building snafus aside, Black Adam proofs to be fairly standard stuff with its need to still tell a basic redemption flick leaving the plot with nowhere original to go apart from some by-the-numbers macguffin hunting. A lot of the character stuff is frantically hurried though in order to get to the impressive action beats and even the massive scale of the brawls begin to get a little samey after a while as the film retreads some overly familiar Man Of Steel-style superhero scraps that prioritizes persistent building leveling over everything else. Threads concerning Teth-Adam’s will he/won’t he rise to begrudging heroism are as predictable and challenging as an episode of The Teletubbies and although the movie does raise salient points considering super-folk (ie. super powers) only interjecting themselves into foreign affairs when it suits them, it’s soon drowned out by the sound of exploding masonry. Elsewhere, there’s a nice twist to be found within the flashbacks of Black Adam’s actual origin story – or at least there would have been if the trailer hadn’t already given the game away months ago.
And yet, despite the fact that it feels like someone has taken the script to a 60 minutes animated movie, shot it live action and filled the gaps with CGI action, when taken as a mindless romp, Black Adam is actually pretty fun if you don’t spend a single second contemplating any of it’s issues and how derivative it is compared to virtually every after blockbuster made since 2008.
Johnson looks every inch the absurdly swole anti-hero who constantly looks at the other costumed people around him like they’re something he’s just scraped off his shoe and the fact that he spends most of the time hovering his already 6 foot seven inch frame off the floor to tower over people even more is a nice touch. Elsewhere, Pierce Brosnan brings a wonderfully bemused detachment to his smoking jacket wearing Dr. Fate thanks to his ability to see forward in time, but the other members of of the Justice Society fail really add anything new to proceedings and the movie’s villain is weaker than watered down water.
So, maybe Black Adam’s massive biceps aren’t entirely the strong, guiding arms that the DCEU needed to lead it to less choppier critical waters, but for the less discerning superhero nut there’s something admittedly satisfying watching Johnson atomize terrorists without any remorse or hand wringing whatsoever.
Teth-Adam may not be the saviour to unite the most tempestuous franchise in Hollywood, but it’s just slick enough to pound two hours into submission leaving minimal damage. Ironically. Slack Adam? Barely, but it would’ve been nice if the script had been as tight as Johnson’s costume.