Black Adam

3 out of 10

Glowering Dwayne Johnson

I am not sure Dwayne Johnson thought things through well enough before jumping into Black Adam – even if it took some 15 years for the project to actually get made. I’m guessing the thought process went something like this: “I’ll reset the power hierachy of the DC universe, I’ll be Black Adam and he’s as powerful as Superman! Where do I sign?” Unfortunately, the character Black Adam forces Johnson to play against the charismatic public persona that he’s crafted for years.

There is a rare mineral named Eternium (no relationship to Unubtanium) that is only located in one place on Earth, a country named Kahndaq. Around 2600 BC, it was discovered that Eternium could be made into the Crown of Sabbac (no, not the game that Han Solo plays) that will give the wearer great power. A tyranical king (because what other kind of kings are there?) creates the crown, but it is lost after an uprising. The crown has been hidden away for centuries until an archeologist, Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) discovers it. In the process, she unwittingly unleashes Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson) into the world. Black Adam is nearly indestructible and ultra-powerful.

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis literally phoning in her performance) calls for the Justice Society to gather and capture Black Adam. The Justice Society, not to be confused with the Justice League, consists of Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). Also, it’s Atom Smasher, not Adam Smasher as I thought when I first heard him being introduced – that realization squashed on my enthusiasm for the character.

DC never learns from its mistakes and this time with the Justice Society it is worse. DC jumps right in, tosses a bunch of characters at us and expects us to know and be bonded with them. Clearly, DC was not interested in doing the legwork of introducing characters. At least with the Justice League we had the familiar well-known characters of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Flash which people have a general idea of. With the Justice Society, I have no real idea who the four Justice Society members are. This is just lazy on the part of DC.

I’m putting this statement here, where it’s weirdly out of place: There’s a weird sense of humor that pervades the movie, it all feels awkwardly misplaced.

There’s a distinct problem with Black Adam and that is that he’s invincible. No one, not even the Justice Society can stop him, so there’s no tension in the film. Watching Black Adam zoom around and kill hundreds of mercenaries gets old by the time it happens again (and again and again). Yawn.

Black Adam even makes a point to say: “There’s no point in fighting. We both know no one can stop me.” This can be said about watching this movie too.

This movie goes against the facade of being a “really nice guy” that Dwayne Johnson has used to build his movie career and public image. Instead of using his overflowing charisma, this movie makes him clamp down and cut the charisma down to near zero. He spends his time glowering at the camera, instead of smoldering with an eyebrow raised. And this is because he’s in the DC universe where things are dark and dourer. Johnson might have done better being in the brighter and lighter Marvel universe where his superpower, his charisma, could have been allowed to shine through.

Black Adam is a mess. The movie introduces an interesting idea: What it looks like when people are colonized and oppressed by outsiders and what can they do? This is something that Sarah Shahi’s character could have used to rally the people around and we could have used it for a deeper film that also includes superheroes. But instead of digging deeper, Black Adam substitutes lots of smash-smash and punch-punch action. That wouldn’t have been bad if the action wasn’t so pedestrian, so run of the mill, and so painfully synthetic. The use of CGI in this movie was over-the-top and it never once felt anywhere near real. Everything had a sheen of fakeness to it.

Would this have been a good movie to sit in an air conditioned theater for two hours with? Maybe? Now that it’s streaming and available for home viewing, it isn’t worth the time.

Streamed on HBO Max.

Random Notes + Spoilers

How did Black Adam, a dude from 2600 BC learn English so quickly?

Black Adam can speak English, he can fly, but he can’t use a door? I think this may have been a running joke in the film, but it was never funny and got worse each time it happened.

Nice cameo by Henry Winkler.

Hawkman may look cool on a comic book page, but he just looks weird onscreen. It’s something about the way the wings flap. And also the question of where does Hawkman’s wings come from? Eww.

Justice Society: Punch first, diplomacy later.

Atom Smasher is like The Flash and Deadpool merged together, but less funny and more annoying.

Black Adam is like The Punisher but with magic powers and invincibility.

What I would love to see is a whole movie of just Dr. Fate and Hawkman hanging out and chilling. Don’t even need for heroics. They seem like characters one could hangout with.

Dwayne Johnson’s head pasted digitally onto a thin body was bizarre.

Everyone just floats and floats and floats.

Slow motion should be used sparingly, it is not in this movie.

When Adrianna Tomaz risks the world for her son, she lost me.

Kid with cape, cringe. Where did all these zombies come from? Were there corpses just strewn all over the street?