‘Black Adam’ Review – A Small Shift In The Hierarchy Of The DCEU
Outside of the one cameo everyone was waiting for, 'Black Adam' is an average action-packed superhero flick, that's more fun than mediocre.
It’s amazing how time flies: after years of development Hell, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s dream of turning one of DC’s more noteworthy second-tier villains into a cinematic equal to Superman can finally be enjoyed – and likewise scrutinized – on its merits rather than its promises.
That’s both in terms of bankable box office and importance to the DCU. There’s a lot riding on Black Adam, and in particular the viability of the a shared universe borne out of the fires of Zack Snyder’s forge.
This film presents a distilled version of those ambitions, divested of Snyder’s dank and dour gray palate – an automatic differentiator from the director’s trilogy despite Johnson’s eagerness to hold onto some vestiges of it.
Prime among these is not a ‘what’, but a ‘who’, as after Johnson labored like Hercules for his return, Henry Cavill, and moreover Superman, clicks into Black Adam as the biggest piece of its puzzle.Yes, he is there in a post-credits scene that teases more to come between the two godlike forces, and further, he is the main reason everyone is talking about the film.
Admittedly, the film’s success and the conversation surrounding it shouldn’t have to hinge on the excitement over this future confrontation, but unfairly or otherwise, that’s what audiences and executives are focusing on.
Subscribe and get our daily emails and follow us on social media.
By opting in, you agree to receive emails with the latest in Comic Culture from Bounding Into Comics. Your information will not be shared with or sold to 3rd parties.
And this focus, in turn, raises the question of whether or not the preponderance of Black Adam‘s preceding two hours can stand on its own.
The plot that makes up Black Adam’s runtime is tried and true. Awakened from a 5,000-year sleep by freedom fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), Teth Adam (Johnson) is back – in black, no less – to once again serve as the protector of Kahndaq.
Upon his revival, the Wizard’s former champion discovers that his once proud and free nation is being occupied by Intergang, who hold the country under martial law as they strip it of its rare minerals.
Enraged, Adam proceeds to go on a crusade to liberate his people, seeking to do so by any means necessary.
However, his mission is thrown off course by the sudden appearance of the Justice Society, who under the leadership of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) are sent by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to neutralize what she considers to be the true threat to the region’s stability – Adam himself.
However, the JSA’s efforts are stifled by Teth Adam’s rising popularity among his oppressed peoples, who are more than ready to look past his methods if it means peace for Kahndaq.
Despite this initial conflict, both the team and Adam’s presences in the region prove handy to combating the real threat to not just Kahndaq, but the world: the demonic Sabbac (Marwan Kenzari), who rises from the underworld to reclaim his place on the country’s ancient throne.
Let’s review: a villain that is a yang to the protagonist’s yin? Check.
A super team at odds with a demigod? Check.
A mysterious group of the ‘powers that be who’ are pulling the strings behind the scenes towards a less than admirable goal? Check.
Much like Red Notice a year ago, the cliches of an action blockbuster are all accounted for in Black Adam, but fortunately, Johnson doesn’t indulge them to quite the same excess as he did for the Netflix film.
To that end, the set pieces are familiar, but not completely stale.
One prominent exception to this indulgence is the character of Adrianna’s son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui).
Fitting the bill of both Toshio Sakurai (or Kenny if you’re watching the original English localization) from the first Gamera movie a Gamera movie and the archetypal ‘talkative prepubescent’ of a Spielberg film, he exists solely to run into trouble and impart knowledge to the culture-shocked Adam.
Like Freddie Freeman in DC bunkmate Shazam, the kid knows a great deal about superheroes, even similarly urging Teth Adam to use a catchphrase when zapping bad guys. In other words, he’s a little hanger-on that is there to keep the plot going and little else, love him or hate him.
The Justice Society is its own mixed bag, and despite being abruptly inserted into the proceedings and given only a passingly adequate amount of background, the team is admittedly a highlight.
Pierce Brosnan’s Dr. Fate is fully the runaway crowd-pleaser you may have heard others says he is, and his scenes with Hawkman help carry the film.
Now that we’re here, I have to address something that isn’t meeting with everyone’s approval – the casting – especially where Hodge and Quintessa Swindell are concerned.
While no, they don’t match their comic book counterparts in appearance, beyond that they do capture glimmers of what makes these characters who they are.
I thought Hodge especially had heart as Hawkman. He played the perfect ‘superhero with a code’ counterpoint to Black Adam’s own principles.
Plus, while their fights are staged similarly to the battles between Zod and Superman in Man of Steel, they thankfully spare us the motion blur. You won’t miss as much when they trade blows in the sky or tight quarters.
Speaking of, since I haven’t gotten to him yet, what about our bad guy?
I’m aware he leaves a lot to be desired for most critics, but I was more far more impressed watching Kenzari perform as Sabbac in his ten-foot rubbery CGI form, all the while breathing fire at Dr. Fate, than I ever was with his time in human form.
Though he takes his inspiration from the DC villain of the same name, rather than a Russian mobster, Kenzari’s Sabbac is instead a run-of-the-mill terrorist serving Intergang.
Sadly, this switch doesn’t really offer audiences anything they haven’t already seen in a Bond film or True Lies.
At certain points, he’s goofy looking – like when he has to portray his ancestors – and then goes back to a particularly nondescript appearance (even though an ignoramus can still tell from the jump that he is a bad guy).
Curiously, the film finds a lot of reasons for its heroes not to kill the guy – and on that note, let’s talk about Adam’s penchant for killing.
Though it’s played up heavily in the film’s marketing, in the end, it doesn’t really factor that much into the plot outside of being used as a setup for quick gags.
Case in point, at one point, Hawkman and Dr. Fate beg Adam to take his enemies captive in order to interrogate them. However, Adam instead takes to flinging his potential prisoners a mile or two into the distance.
While this got a laugh every time, it quickly became a bit of an overplayed hand.
In this vein, Black Adam can be accused of being overplayed and cliche.
That’s not a necessarily a negative – it’s just being fair.
As a piece of cinema, it’s comparable to an aughts Marvel movie that gives viewers fan service, thrills their eyeballs, and possesses an expedient pace to its action set pieces.
While it might not be quite on the level of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, Richard Donner’s Superman, or any of Snyder’s outings, at the end of the day, Johnson did what he could to follow through on his wish to position his favorite DC character as a cinematic lead.
Does that mean Black Adam presents a formula that Johnson and Warner Bros. Discovery should default to hanging their hats on from here on out?
Not quite, but it is an entertaining start to a promising new phase of the DCU which promises to give more deference to its fans.
Yeah, I know, we’ve been there before, many times at this point, but, hey, at least this time Cavill is confirmed to be back – and that makes all the difference.