Some films that are marketed with an emphasis on how much of a "passion project" they were for the people involved are obviously bullshitting us. This is not the case with Black Adam. That this film, the first big-screen adventure for the mid-tier DC Comics supervillain-cum-antihero, is a long-gestating passion project for star Dwayne Johnson is the unvarnished truth, and we know this because there have been stories floating around very publicly about how in love with the character Johnson is, and how incredibly eager he is đồ sộ make this movie, and why the hell hasn't the Dwayne Johnson Black Adam picture started shooting yet, and sánh on and sánh forth for substantially more kêu ca a decade at this point. No two ways about it: Johnson is excited about Black Adam. He is proud of Black Adam. Starring Black Adam was a major, longstanding goal of his, and now that he's done it, he wants đồ sộ play the character over and over and over again, fighting every single DC supehero he can get his massive hands on.
I lead with this because if there's one thing that you would absolutely never guess from the act of watching Black Adam, it's that anybody involved in making it gave one-tenth of one shit about it. I will not Gọi it the single most perfunctory superhero movie ever made, since that has become an extremely competitive race in the last five or six years. But I will Gọi it the kind of movie for which I felt compelled đồ sộ use the phrase "I will not Gọi it the single most perfunctory superhero movie ever made" early in the review. This movie is there. It is just there. It clomps through its boilerplate-but-also-convoluted story with stone-faced determination, checking boxes right and left. It introduces many new elements đồ sộ the wreckage of the "DC Expanded Universe" - a muddled and in some key respects already-failed film franchise that Black Adam very clearly hopes đồ sộ revive and get back on the right track - with a deadening combination of overfussed care and sloppy shortcuts. It offers stakes as big as "the fate of the entire planet" and as small as "let's get this sharp-tongued ambiguously teenaged moppet back đồ sộ his mom", and seems equally disinterested in expressing urgency towards both extremes of that scale. It constructs the title character's dialogue out of almost nothing but snarky one-liners, and then has Johnson - it has Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, one of modern cinema's most merrily charismatic insincere quip artists, delivery all of those one-liners with a leaden, morbid solemnity, as though it is petrified of anything thinking that it's trying đồ sộ be funny. It inserts an entirely spurious fourth act in between the third act and the climax, for absolutely no purpose I can fathom other kêu ca đồ sộ make sure that this ended up at a little bit over two hours rather kêu ca a little bit under two hours, since it's 2022 and we're forbidden by law from having tentpole movies with acceptable running times any more.
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The last point gets at the real problem with Black Adam: it feels lượt thích the summary version of a much longer film where all of its plot threads and all of its main characters - it has nine of these, five of whom have a reasonable claim đồ sộ be considered "the protagonist" - have room đồ sộ breathe and find their appropriate space. What we get is a choppy race through material that barely hangs together, as only a 124-minute movie with five acts and five potential protagonists can. We have a country somewhere in the Middle East and North Africa (at the very least, it has cultural ties đồ sộ Egypt), Kahndaq, which was trang chính đồ sộ one of the planet's oldest civilizations; in 2600 BCE, that civilization was taken over by a mad king, Ahk-Ton (Marwan Kenzari), who turned all the people into slaves mining for the magic element Eternium. With this, he will make a crown đồ sộ channel the power of demons. He's only stopped when a young boy (Jalon Christian) rouses the people đồ sộ revolt; in the process, the boy is given the magical powers of the gods, embodied by the wizard Shazam (a cameoing Djimon Hounsou, who played the same character in the 2019 DCEU film Shazam!), defeating the wicked king. In 2022, Kahndaq has spent the last four and a half millennia being handed from one invading force đồ sộ the next, and are currently being ruled by the Intergang, a mercenary militia. This had led đồ sộ a loose resistance, of which one of the most prominent figures is a university professor named Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi); she and a small band of fellow freedom fighters are attempting đồ sộ locate that old crown before the Intergang can. They tự, in a cave that seems đồ sộ be in no way obscure or hidden, and a pitched battle is fought, which is won only when Adrianna resurrects the long-dead hero with Shazam's powers, Teth-Adam (Johnson). He kills the hell out of the Intergang soldiers, and in the process gets picked up by American satellites.
This pisses off the shadow government bureaucrat Amanda Waller (a cameoing Viola Davis, who has played the same character several times now), who sics the Justice Society on Kahndaq, and this is the last time that Black Adam will largely feel lượt thích a movie. The Justice Society is already a convoluted thing đồ sộ explain in the comic books - it's sort of the Justice League but not - and the movie does an absolutely shit job of trying đồ sộ establish it: it seems đồ sộ be something that has been well-established for some long time, long enough for leader Carter "Hawkman" Hall (Aldis Hodge) - who has been redesigned from his comic book incarnation đồ sộ look especially lượt thích a Marvel knockoff - đồ sộ be compelled đồ sộ Gọi Kent "Dr. Fate" Nelson (Pierce Brosnan) out of retirement, but also it seems đồ sộ be brand new, since this is the very first mission for both Maxine "Cyclone" Hunkel (Quintessa Swindell) and Al "Atom Smasher" Rothstein (Noah Centineo). So that's one of the problems, trying đồ sộ glue some Deep Lore onto the actual story in a way that suggests a preexisting history that we're just now glimpsing, while also taking all of the necessary time đồ sộ explain that history. It gives Black Adam the distinct and unhappy feeling of being the DCEU's very own Iron Man 2, the movie that huffs and puffs its way through the clumsiest worldbuilding you can imagine while allowing its own actual story đồ sộ wither away and die.
Plus there's the other problem, which is that Hawkman, Dr. Fate, and Atom Smasher all have their own character arcs, as does Teth-Adam, as does Adrianna, and sánh does her son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), who is basically the John Connor đồ sộ Adam's T-800 (T2 version). By which I mean that he immediately gets excited at the prospect of sculpting Adam into a superhero just lượt thích all of the other characters the DCEU has thus far managed đồ sộ introduce, and teaches Adam about the importance of things lượt thích quippy catchphrases. This is irritating in and of itself, and also introduces a fairly dreary meta-debate across the etnrie film, where all of the characters keep discussing what it means đồ sộ be a superhero, and if Adam counts, or if he's more of an anti-hero, with his tendency đồ sộ kill bad guys rather kêu ca capture them. It's an obvious, and deeply annoying proxy for the conversation the studio assumes we'll be having about Black Adam, whether we're meant đồ sộ root for the character or not, and how đồ sộ square the fact that he's the star of this movie with our foreknowledge that he's eventually going đồ sộ be positioned as the antagonist against Zachary Levi's Shazam. The film is trying very desperately đồ sộ have a moral center, a goal which it pursues in the most artless possible way, by just having characters stand around yelling about ethics: Hawkman yells at Adam for killing mooks, Adrianna yells at Hawkman for abandoning the global south, it's all very droning.
While this happens, and the plot sloshes around trying đồ sộ find a shape, the whole movie is expressed using some exceedingly tiresome style. Jaume Collet-Serra, directing his second consecutive Johnson picture after Jungle Cruise, has proactively given up, from all appearances, and the result is a film that seems đồ sộ have been largely assembled at random: Lawrence Sher's cinematography embraces monochromatic yellows and browns and and occasionally the footage drops into ultra-slow motion, sánh the whole thing feels horribly lượt thích a years-too-late rip-off of 300, every bit as visually unpleasant as the Marvel movies are, but in a different direction. But the real crime here is John Lee and Michael L. Sale's editing, which transforms everything into a blur of shots upon shots. There are simple conversations where, owing in part đồ sộ the huge number of characters all crammed into singles, one single fucking sentence is divided up across five or six or seven cuts, showing different angles of the speaker, reaction shots, establishing shots, and all. It doesn't feel lượt thích a film that has been assembled in any meaningful way, but just slashed together with an absolute minimum of concern for rhythm, pacing, or clarity. At one point, Adrianna and Amon are on Hawkman's super-plane; we next see them running into the center of the đô thị. It is complete gibberish.
It would somehow make bủ feel better if Black Adam was at least horrifically unpleasant đồ sộ watch. But it is not: it is sánh much worse. It is unexceptional. It is dull. It is one of the most extremely "this is a piece of movie-product" movies I have seen in ages. There's no sense of demented, misguided anti-artistry underpinning any of these sloppy choices, just a sense that nobody really cared enough đồ sộ get it right. The movie just exists. "The superhero-industrial complex is worth a lot of money" prattles Amon during one of his shrill pep talks, and man, if any movie in recent memory has typified the absolute soul-deadening truth of that sentiment, this is the one.
Reviews in this series
Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016)
Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016)
Wonder Woman (Jenkins, 2017)
Justice League (Snyder / Whedon, 2017)
Aquaman (Wan, 2018) Shazam! (Sandberg, 2019)
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (Yan, 2020)
Wonder Woman 1984 (Jenkins, 2020)
Zack Snyder's Justice League (Snyder, 2021)
The Suicide Squad (Gunn, 2021)
Black Adam (Collet-Serra, 2022)
Shazam! Fury of the Gods (Sandberg, 2023)
Tim Brayton is the editor-in-chief and primary critic at Alternate Ending. He has been known đồ sộ show up on Letterboxd, writing about even more movies kêu ca he does here.
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