It has been 15 years since it was announced that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would be playing the infamous DC Comics villain/anti-hero Black Adam in a live action film. Warranted or not (I say no), there’s been a stigma attached to the DCEU ever since the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; that stigma being their movies all suck and are nothing compared to their dominating competition at Disney. While Marvel has been putting out subpar product post release of Endgame, DC/Warner Bros has taken a truly unique approach and style with each of their releases which has resulted in some really great films in my opinion. That being said, those great releases weren’t enough to break the stigma and make gains in their box office returns.
Enter The Rock, finally free to focus on this project he’s been committed to for 1.5 decades, after seeing himself out of the Fast franchise for good. During his long run of promoting this film, The Rock has attached the mantra of “the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe is about to change”. Is he right? Will his proven box office track record help right the DC ship? Was it worth the 15 year wait?
Although I fancy myself a big DC Comics fan, admittedly my knowledge on Black Adam the character is pretty limited. I have always known him as a key villain to Shazam. When Dwayne Johnson began candidly speaking about what this film would entail, it bummed me out to hear that they ended up changing their mind and did not include him in the first Shazam! film. Instead, DJ wanted to focus on the anti-hero persona of Adam and wanted to bring along with him a bevy of characters we have yet to see in live action.
We begin this tale in Kahndaq, the fictional home country of the DC universe where Black Adam has lived for countless ages (conscious and not). An immensely messy and rushed voice over kicks off the film in an attempt to explain the histories of this Nation and Black Adam himself. I’ll spare you the details of his origin as it will be explained to you out of order Nolan style throughout the film in doses. The sweaty voice over explains over a scene in ancient times, before Teth gained the power of Adam, the ruler of Kahndaq enslaved his people to mine for precious minerals found only in the nation. With these minerals he can complete the creation of a mythic crown that will give its wearer immortality. After becoming Teth-Adam with immense power, the ruler is defeated and Teth is buried in a tomb under unclear circumstances.
Fast forward thousands of years to today, Adriana Tomaz (Sarah Shahl) is in hiding from an organization that still rules of Kahndaq today. She and her crew seek to find the ancient crown and hide it from the evil power controlling the land. When backed into a corner at the crown site, she unearths Teth-Adam from his slumber, and he immediately goes on a killing spree. We get a long action packed sequence of The Rock brutally murdering these goons, ripping their limbs off, and overall causing mass amounts of destruction. This mayhem catches the attention of a familiar face in the DCEU, one Amanda Waller (Viola Davis).
Waller immediately reaches out to Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) to go stop Adam and imprison him before he gains full consciousness and causes destruction the world has never seen. Hawkman is in charge of the Justice Society (sans “of America”). The Justice Society consists of Hawkman, Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan). This is a tight knit group that you can tell gets each other well with each of their abilities being wholly unique. Hawkman can fly and is a powerful warrior with his infamous Thanagarian Mace. Cyclone essentially can throw tornados and wind at people (very Storm-esque). Atom Smasher inherited a suit and abilities from his uncle (hilarious cameo) that allows him to grow to giant sizes. Dr. Fate is the hardest to explain, but a mystical helmet has granted him super wizard like powers, and he steals the whole film by a large margin.
That’s enough of the plot for this review, which I interestingly found too small and too much at the same time? The first 2/3 of the film is a simplistic race to find the crown while also trying to stop Black Adam from killing every living thing under the sun. In the final act though there is a plethora of story lines converging in frankly an overwhelming rate. I found the pacing to be off in the film but not in the traditional sense; it was more in the form of whiplash from endless scenes of continuous action and mayhem, with huge helpings of expository dialogue. If characters aren’t making jokes, they’re dumping a ton of story content on you that’s not easy to show.
Outside of the poor dialogue and unrelenting amounts of action, I had some other issues with the film. There is some CGI in this film that is so poor I was audibly laughing in the theatre and several members of my audience were too. In particular, they use the pre super solider Steve Rogers effects that were used on Chris Evans in Captain America, but on The Rock. It worked with Evans but with The Rock, in the scenes that require it, he looks like someone using big head mode in Goldeneye or NBA Jam.
Another issue I had is with the action itself, it’s all very CGI slugfest without any real stunt work involved. A missed opportunity in my opinion when you have a physical specimen like The Rock looking more jacked than he ever has, basically just swinging on wires in front of a green screen or just CGI’d entirely. It would have been nice to see a little more practicality, but considering the character it does make sense; it’s just a little underwhelming. I will say though some of the violence is very juicy and they push the envelope for a PG-13 film.
As for the positives, the whole cast top to bottom embodies their characters to perfection and with a lot of charm. Dwayne Johnson as the title character finds a great balance between menacing, heart, and comic. Although Dr. Fate was my favorite part of the film, what’s even more special about him is Pierce Brosnan’s performance outside of the helmet. He brings a true heart and gravitas that’s greatly needed. Aldis Hodge I’ve been a fan of since The Invisible Man and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the rest of these young performers here.
Along with the performances, I was also immensely impressed by the costumes and set design. With the exception of Cyclone, every costume looks immaculately perfect for the actors and it’s as if they came straight out of the comics. There’s an impressive amount of lore and world building here too for the greater DCEU, with a credits stinger better than any I’ve seen in ages (def stick around for that).
Overall, I found the movie to be a decent/average watch with a lot of flaws, but still something worth checking out at least once. Now that the origins are out of the way I very much hope we’ll be seeing much more of Black Adam in this new hierarchy of the DCEU. As a film in general I give it a 6.5/10 and as a DC Comics film, I give it a solid 7/10.
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