Black Adam, 2022.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Pierce Brosnan, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Bodhi Sabongui, Viola Davis, Jennifer Holland, Mo Amer, Odelya Halevi, Patrick Sabongui, Jalon Christian, and Henry Winkler.
Nearly 5,000 years after he was bestowed with the almighty powers of the Egyptian gods and imprisoned just as quickly-Black Adam is freed from his earthly tomb, ready to unleash his unique form of justice on the modern world.
Everyone knows The Rock, but let’s say someone doesn’t. If that person went into Black Adam and, upon exiting the theater, was told that Dwayne Johnson was once the most electrifying man in sports entertainment and one of the most charismatic human beings on this planet, they would assume you’re crazy. But that’s how it feels watching Dwayne Johnson in Black Adam, portraying popular DC Comics antihero Adam Teth, trying to subdue that natural charm and put on a quieter and more brooding performance.
The movie is not quiet, jampacked with nonstop action and mostly hideous special effects despite often feeling like a graphic novel come to life (a busy, overwhelming onslaught of colors and images operating under the stance that more is always better). It’s a cacophony of destruction that rarely allows room for the characters to breathe and interact naturally or do anything beyond smashing each other to pieces (the number of explosions here will have one wondering how there will be a city with citizens left for liberation and freedom) and spout exposition regarding magical crowns and invincibility.
However, whenever there is a small break in that mayhem, it’s usually for Adam to deliver a lame confrontational joke that will, once again, have people wondering how this hulking and smoldering behemoth was partially responsible for carrying WWE into the mainstream. None of this is helped by on-the-nose needle drops during these chaotic set-pieces, introducing the antihero’s superpowers with a sequence set to the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black (it’s cheesy blaring over the TV spot, too, but straight-up cringe in the final version). At worst, Dwayne Johnson looks completely lost.
The same could also be said about director Jaume Collet-Serra (working from a script by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani based on characters created by Otto Binder and C.C. Beck), who has to take a sloppy narrative and weave it into something coherent with emotional stakes. He somewhat succeeds in the third act but is done no favors by an overcrowded cast of characters.
Black Adam isn’t content just introducing Adam Teth and exploring his unique moral code, also choosing to incorporate the Justice Society, which is comprised of Pierce Brosnan’s Doctor Fate (a sorcerer capable of seeing the future), Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman (a winged warrior), Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher (able to adjust his height to gargantuan size, coming across as a bargain bin Ant-Man), and Quintessa Swindell’s Cyclone (her powers are fairly self-explanatory). I also couldn’t tell you a single thing about who these characters are beyond their abilities and fighting styles because they only exist as obstacles for Adam on his crash course to understanding what it means to be a hero while retaining his preferred violent brand of justice.
When the script occasionally leans into finding the humor there, such as an amusing moment that sees Adam learning proper interrogation tactics and sarcasm, the film briefly finds a pulse. The majority of Black Adam is an endless stream of battles that, while they are fine to boast considering the genre, continuously eliminate opportunities to explore this character and the fictional city of Kahndaq, he was once a slave under before fighting back against a tyrannical king, ending up entombed for thousands of years. Admittedly, some of this exposition comes back into play during the final stretch and is moderately engaging, but by that point, Black Adam has ignored anything potentially interesting about itself to bombard with lifeless extended CGI action bearing no meaning or consequences.
The urgency is supposed to come from Adam, tasked with rescuing Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), the son of resistance fighter Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), from the organized crime syndicate Intergang, who happens to be taking over the city and depleting it of its magical resources – Eternium crystals. She is aided by friends and family (one of which attempts to provide comedic relief), with Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari) undercover infiltrating their ranks to find the mystical crown infused with Eternium that grants invulnerability. What ensues is Adam and the Justice Society setting aside their differences for the greater good, although at the end of the day, Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller wants what is essentially another Superman detained.
Black Adam’s tortured past and antihero persona offer the potential for something refreshing, but the film only cares about the action beats. I’m also aware that this project has been 15 years in the making and personal for Dwayne Johnson, so it’s not exactly fun picking this apart, but I’m also doing so because I know there is a character worth exploring here. And I would say perhaps a sequel will get that job done, but DC apparently has something else in store that will please the fandom but could fail to expand on the antihero.
Black Adam is another classic case of DC skipping seven steps ahead of themselves like a Brahma bull in a china shop instead of organically building something exceptional from the ground up with care.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]