Film Review: Black Adam

By Matthew Moorcroft

No Recommendation

  • Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
  • Starring Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Marwan Kenzari, Pierce Brosnan
  • PG-13

You can’t deny that Dwayne Johnson doesn’t pay his debt or skimp out on promises. Having been attached to the Shazam franchise in general for over a decade, it’s clear that Black Adam, initially set to be simply the antagonist in a solo Shazam film turned full on separate project, became a passion project. While the character isn’t exactly a household name, it was clear that Johnson’s biggest goal was to make him one, to have him stand toe-to-toe with the rest of the DCEU at large.

Two things happened in the meantime. The DCEU imploded on itself, for one – bad decision making and poorly received films basically tanked an already gestating franchise, and WB has been struggling to pick up the pieces ever since. And as for Dwayne Johnson? Well he got bigger then ever before, so big in fact he’s now the big selling point for Black Adam beyond it’s DC connections. Prior to this, people would see a DC movie that just so happened to star Dwayne Johnson. Now? People are seeing a Dwayne Johnson movie that just happens to be set in the DC universe. And with WB scrambling to try and make their studio reset itself in the wake of a contentious buyout, here is finally Black Adam, warts and all, available to the masses as their last big ditch effort to possible save an entire brand.

And, as it turns out, the result is a predictably messy one, and it’s one to also barely qualifies as a movie let alone a collection of free Youtube “best of” clips for when long term DC fans want to cue up some action scenes to spend time on. Black Adam is a bizarre mix of Man of Steel‘s frenetic, fast paced action, Aquaman‘s heavy lore and mythos, and Suicide Squad‘s large cast of colorful characters, and will on paper this seems like a recipe for success it’s clearly been cobbled together in an edit so poorly thought out that you wonder if reshoots have happened behind the scenes in secret. And it likely was – ADR, fast coverage edits, and characters arcs that seem to happen off screen indicate that whatever cut this was is not the one that was initially intended.

But, what did we really expect here? DC has been playing fast and loose with these things ever since their big Snyder experiment crashed and burned with audiences, and while your personal mileage may vary with those films – I personally think they range from passable to a load of dreck – it’s clear that they’ve lacked a clear direction since. And Black Adam doesn’t give them a clear path at all, instead just postures at possible setups that never get pay offs, hoping for the love of god it gets some kind of sequel or crossover film that will make it worthwhile in the long run. And as such, Black Adam‘s is a pitch disguised as entertainment, a marketing tool shown to audiences, a full on WWE style promo reel accidentally sent to 4,000 theaters as opposed to advertisers.

At least Johnson isn’t bad here, albeit the decision to have Black Adam, or Teth-Adam as the film refers to him as, stoic and without emotion for most of the film’s runtime doesn’t do him well. When he actually has a chance to emote in the flashback sequences, he shows that he was at least putting in the work, and he holds his own against the much stronger Justice Society who are pretty much the MVPs here. Pierce Brosnan in particular steals the floor away from the rest of the cast as Doctor Fate, who is one of the most well-realized comic accurate depictions of any character in superhero cinema at the moment and Brosnan brings his traditional gravitas to the role. It’s a shame the film isn’t about the JSA as a whole, honestly, as two of it’s members feel woefully underdeveloped and the two that do get a lot of screentime are mostly side fare to Black Adam who is a vehicle for action setpieces.

Which there are a lot of it. So much so in fact it borders on numbing, even if Black Adam’s first appearance is the only time the final film really reaches that high of a great wrestling match they are clearly going for here. But by the end, when it replicates the standard CGI battle against an mocaped antagonist that feels almost copy pasted from Wonder Woman or Suicide Squad and you wonder what the point of it all is. If a superhero is only as good as his villain, then Black Adam has failed so immensely you might as well stop there.

I hate being so negative when there is stuff to like here – particularly when it does have moments of genuine entertainment to be found – but Black Adam is exactly the kind of film the DCEU has been trying to avoid making for a while and yet here we are. It all comes back to the same issues. And while they still have several projects in the wing, maybe it’s time to let the universe sit for a bit afterwards. Cause after this, I literally have no idea how to continue on from here. This is a creative dead end.

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