“And tell them the Man in Black sent you.”
Comic book movie fans unfortunately soak every big budget adaptation release in a cloak of greatness before they are even released, and “Black Adam” is no different. Led by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, this unique anti-hero in the DCEU universe is meant to make a quick imprint on the world of superhumans, if the legions of comic book mega nerds can allow it to breathe.
A movie that has been many years in the making takes a big swing with its launch this past weekend, and I’m here to tell you if director Jaume Collet-Serra and his larger-than-life star were successful, or is this another Warner Brothers-built tower of eye-rolling boredom?
“Born out of rage,” Johnson’s Teth Adam grew up a slave in Kahndaq, a fictional country embedded with tyrant, rule-making mercenaries. Cue the chunky, rushed backstory retelling the film begins the film with. In this very early setting, the mercs ruled over the poor slaves and enlist them in the mines searching for an ancient yet powerful resource called eternium. This gives rulers of Kahndaq unchecked power and abilities, which is where young Adam comes into play.
In a desperate attempt to help his people, young Adam makes a bold attempt to capture the attention of the gods, making a wish of sorts that takes him from feeble young teen to fierce god with the saying of a single word, “Shazam!” But bigger muscles and unlimited powers can still yield dangerous results for heroes, villains, and the ones stuck in between like Adam.
Sound familiar? Suffice to say, Adam has a monstrous grudge brewing beneath the layers of concrete many decades later when a group of locals go looking for a magical crown. The search lands them in a dark cave where nothing good happens, and what you were looking for becomes something else. The locals run into mercs, and they all eventually awaken a pissed off Adam. Chaos ensues.
“Black Adam” gets a lot more fun when the backstory finishes and the big fella breaks out to play. The Justice Society (we’ll get to them later) gets called into play, and every bad guy in Kahndaq and anywhere close is dispatched to either find the crown or take out Adam. The interesting thing here is Adam isn’t playing for the good guys or the bad folks; he’s a highly dangerous man apart at the outset.
This unusual dynamic allows audiences to see a different side of Johnson, who gets to play something other than a pure hero for the first time in a good while. This isn’t your “San Andreas” and “Walking Tall” good hearted dude; Collet-Serra aggressively flips the charisma pancake on its side with this iteration of Johnson, who he has worked with a lot over their respective careers.
Seeing The Rock roast a merc all the way down to the bone and mush is exactly what I wanted to see him do in his role. Break bad, go for it, and don’t half-ass the role of a guy who spends the entire movie ruminating on whether or not to save the universe or burn it all down. It’s easily his most complete performance, because he has to dip his feet in antagonistic waters while giving off the notion that his anti-hero hasn’t been swallowed full by the dark side.
You still see Johnson doing his thing and making magic out of a one-liner, but it’s a different angle for fans. Seeing all the hard work he put in and the challenge of taking up a role in a much ridiculed world, I tip my cap to him for the effort. He has some good support.
It’s an equal thrill to see Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge step into the world of superheroes as Kent “Dr. Fate” Nelson and Carter “Hawkman” Hall, respectively. As two of the four opposing forces of the Justice Society of America tasked with taking down a reckless Adam, the pair give solid performances that heighten the material, and nothing more. Quintessa Swindell and Noah Centineo put in good work as Cyclone and Atom Smasher, the younger members of the team that is easily WAY cooler than The ego-infested Justice League.
The story may seem like standard procedure, but the screenplay does have a few jewels packed within. One of them is a riff on gunslingers and spaghetti westerns, as Adam employs an Eastwood trick he watched on television with a band of goons. The soundtrack and Lorne Balfe’s score keep the energy flowing amid adventures and showdowns, but the unkempt pacing keeps the two hour film from feeling too long.
Johnson wanted to reshape the hierarchy in the DCEU universe, but he really just helped make a highly entertaining and fun movie instead. One that doesn’t ask too much of its audience, delivers the needed hits with aplomb, and leaves you wanting more in the end. It’s not a masterpiece, but it really didn’t have to be. If comic book fans can check their ambitions for “Black Adam” at the door, they can enjoy this rousing flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“Black Adam” is all doom and gloom, thankfully. It’s not a dark dread of hollowed stoicism. It has a tongue placed firmly in its cheek and a sly sense of humor, never allowing the movie to get too light or dark; just the right amount of entertainment and humor. One thing it does produce is unexpected emotion with its characters, which is not always a slam dunk in a comic book take.
Like last year’s rollicking “Suicide Squad,” “Black Adam” has its own brand of action and fun, one that worked very well for me–a fella with high expectations due to the Rock at the center.
Nice job, Mr. Johnson. The hype was met.