If there was ever a stereotype for what a superhero comic book would be, there's a good chance that the word-bubbles with the sounds "Whiz!", "Bam!", and "Pow!" would be included in that cliché. And if there was ever a stereotype for what a superhero comic book MOVIE would be, just refer to "Black Adam," the latest swing-and-a-miss from the flailing DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU).
"Black Adam" does it all, in that it is definitely a superhero movie. It looks great, and contains plenty of slick CG, action and fighting. But sadly, it is as hollow as they come, a film where neither the protagonist or the antagonist is all that interesting. It's everything you think a superhero movie is, but in the day-and-age of Marvel movies (or even the stellar DCCU film from earlier this year, "The Batman"), audiences require - heck, deserve - more than what The Rock was cookin' with "Black Adam."
When did superhero movies stop being fun?
"Black Adam" is a character that was created all the way back in 1945, who has existed on the pages of DC Comics since the 1970s. "Black Adam" was always a heel, a villainous superpower who battled Captain Marvel (now known as Shazam), but who more recently in the comics has become a popular anti-hero.
The character and the film has been a passion project for Dwayne Johnson, and if ever the character of Black Adam was going to be portrayed on-screen, I can think of no one to carry that mantle more fittingly than Dwayne Johnson. But this origin story sucks Black Adam dry, pulling out any trace of personality or style. Johnson, who has become one of the biggest action stars in Hollywood over the past two decades, isn't even given the room for his usual comedic "winking" to the audience. He plays Black Adam straight and narrow, rendering him as generic as they come.
Black Adam was first a slave, thousands of years ago in the fictional city of Kahndaq. In modern times, he is let-loose of his prison by a mother, Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) and her son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), who were searching for an ancient artifact. There are some baddies trying to harness the unleashed evils, and once the U.S. Government is made aware of Black Adam's tremendous power, they call on the Justice Society, made up of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), to reign him in.
None of these characters are clearly fleshed-out, with maybe Dr. Fate's character being the most confounding. The entirety of the film looks like what might happen if you just dumped a bunch of superheroes and action scenes in a blender and hit "puree."
With nothing to latch on to, with nothing to really care about, all we have is non-stop action. Depressingly, all of this action takes place in the modern-day Kahndaq, making the scenes quickly repetitive. Part of the story is about how they are trying to contain Black Adam, but for a guy so powerful, you think he might have gone outside the city walls at least a few times? You get the feeling that the filmmakers envisioned Kahndaq as becoming a beloved character of its own, much how Wakanda became its own thing in "Black Panther." Well, Kahndaq is no Wakanda, and really Kahndaq has no memorable traits or features that make it a place I'd like to ever see visited again on screen.
It's clear that DC has more on its mind, a larger picture that it wants to move towards...heck, they've been trying to chase Marvel (films) going on nearly 20 years. But unlike the MCU, the DCCU is convoluted and confusing. Yes, there is a mid-credit scene in "Black Adam" that is probably more exciting than the entirety of the film that preceded it. But even so (and I won't spoil it here), but do we even care? Most of the time, an MCU end credit stinger made the audience so excited that they just could not wait for the next Marvel installment. But what exactly is the DCCU heading towards?
For every step forward ("The Batman" or the latest "Suicide Squad") the DCCU seems to take two steps back ("Black Adam" or "Birds of Prey"). Nothing is cohesive, nothing seems to matter, and there is no through-line to any of this madness.
"Black Adam" could have been a cool anti-hero, but instead, he represents everything that is currently wrong with the genre.
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Fantasy.
Run Time: 2 hours 4 minutes.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Shahi, Viola Davis, Pierce Brosnan, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Quintessa Swindell, Bodhi Sabongui, Mohammed Amer.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ("Jungle Cruise," "The Commuter," "Run All Night," "Non-Stop," "House of Wax (2005)").
"Black Adam" is in theaters everywhere on Friday, October 21st, 2022.
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