Black Adam is an action-packed crowd-pleaser, featuring Dwayne Johnson at the top of his game. With incredible visual effects and filled to the brim with DC characters and lore, Black Adam serves as a B-12 shot for the DCEU.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and starring Dwayne Johnson as the titular character, Black Adam roars into the screen with a fast-paced plot and tons of action set-pieces, keeping the viewer engaged throughout. Johnson has been attached to the Black Adam role for nearly two decades, a testament to his commitment to the character through numerous studio regime changes and universe-building. His love for the DC Universe shines through the film and his passion pays off well throughout.
Black Adam tells the origin story of Teth-Adam; from his days as a slave in the city of Kahndaq to becoming champion of the war-torn country. The film does not shy away from allegories and metaphors to the Middle East and the lack of superheroes saving the oppressed overseas. The people of Kahndaq are desperate for a hero during the film, and Black Adam fits the purpose well. The themes could have been expounded upon with more subtlety and a stronger hand, and it deserves it. Still, the theme of the outsider protecting the underrepresented was done well considering the family-blockbuster goal.
From a filmmaking perspective, Johnson has not been shy in wanting to separate Black Adam from his counterpart, Shazam. Originally pitched for the two characters to share their first film, Johnson ultimately convinced the studio to divide the two into their own franchises, with an ultimate intention to have them face off in the future. A comparison to the relationship between Venom and Spider-Man can be inferred here, as the former has established itself as its own lucrative franchise for Sony. The film plays like 2018’s Venom in multiple ways, focusing on brutal action sequences and a mixed tone of dark moments and humor.
Ultimately, Black Adam is a movie with Dwyane Johnson front and center, and he delivers. His dedication from a physical perspective pays dividends for the character. Black Adam looks as powerful as he is because Johnson sells it with the commitment to his body. From an acting perspective, he pushed himself to the limit to get the character right. A common knock against the star is that he is unable to blend into a role. The audience simply sees The Rock instead of the character he is playing. While this aspect is still present in the film, large strides have been made from an acting perspective to give the character weight.
Supporting Johnson’s character is the introduction of the Justice Society on the big screen. Multiple fan-favorite DC characters make their big-screen debut in the film. This includes Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate and Aldis Hodge as Hawkman. Brosnan is a natural in the role of Fate and it’s a wonder how no one tapped on his talents sooner for a superhero role. Hodge is just as great in the film, playing Hawkman with grace and ferocity.
The trio of Brosnan, Hodge, and Johnson provide the lynchpin of the film, and they play off themselves quite well. Supporting the core are Noah Centineo, Quintessa Swindell, and Viola Davis, who reprises her role as Amanda Waller. Davis, who was added to the film during reshoots, provided much-needed cinematic layering for the DCEU and further connects the world of Black Adam with the one seen in previous films.
From a pacing perspective, Black Adam can be a mixed bag. The pace of the film is lightning-fast. From the opening sequence of Black Adam’s awakening to the final sequence, the film moves from action scene to exposition and back to action without any breathing room. It has a summer movie feel through and through, different from DC’s slower-paced films. Without time to spare, the film carries many highs but also some lows.
The script of Black Adam is arguably the weakest part of the film. Character arcs can feel paper-thin and predictable. The themes, while strong on paper, have the subtlety of a Mack truck driving at max speed. Black Adam certainly does not present itself as a cinematic masterpiece in any way, rather as a popcorn-fun film with tons of action and strong visual effects to give it a clean polish. Dwayne Johnson knows how to sell and package a film for the widest audience and Black Adam knows exactly what it wants to be for the audience, a good time.
Lorne Balfe’s score for Black Adam deserves praise for being heroic and epic in nature. Balfe’s triumphant notes play well for the Justice Society, whereas the Black Adam theme is more subdued and plays to the character’s tragic past and ultimate redemption. On the note of redemption, Dwayne Johnson has not been shy about wanting his character to face-off against Superman, particularly, Henry Cavill. Without directly going into spoilers about the film, his wish for the fateful showdown is very much in play.
Ultimately, Black Adam accomplishes what it set out to do. It establishes Black Adam is a powerhouse in the DC Universe, it expands the universe to include the Justice Society, it blends in actors and characters from prior films to strengthen continuity and it has a surprise to make the fans very happy.
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