The Rock's Black Adam is unfortunately a combination of all the safest, most predictable, and most moderately entertaining aspects of the superhero genre.
By John Farrar
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Black Adam, DC’s latest installment into the DC Extended Universe, is a mess. There’s no other way to put it. An entertaining experience for fans of The Rock, but a mess nonetheless. In many ways it feels like the film was written by an A.I. robot after analyzing the tropes and quips of every superhero movie in existence. The story is an amalgamation of all the safest, most predictable, and most moderately entertaining aspects of the superhero genre, leaving the viewer with exactly what you would expect: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being a badass, a convoluted plot, some jokes that give you a half-hearted giggle, and a whole lotta cheesiness that’s sometimes charming, sometimes not.
In ancient Kahndaq, Teth Adam was bestowed the almighty powers of the gods. After using these powers for vengeance, he was imprisoned, becoming Black Adam. Nearly 5,000 years have passed, and Black Adam has gone from man to myth to legend. Now free, his unique form of justice, born out of rage, is challenged by modern-day heroes who form the Justice Society: Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Atom Smasher and Cyclone.
The film starts with a massive exposition dump where an unknown voice narrates the history of the last 5,000 years, providing the viewer with a vague understanding of the origin of Black Adam. Minutes after the initial exposition dump, we’re thrust into an extraction mission with four new characters, none of which the viewer has any reason to care about. In fact, I’ve already forgotten the names of these supporting characters. At this point in the movie, my friend, who’s a massive superhero fan, leaned over and whispered in my ear “I have no idea what’s going on right now”.
I surprisingly found the other four side characters, the members of the Justice Society, to be more interesting than the titular character, an antihero who would fly away whenever things got complicated and who spoke in almost exclusively one-liners that sounded like they were written for a trailer rather than a movie. It’s hard to root for Black Adam when his character has hardly any lines that feel genuinely thoughtful.
Fans of the MCU will notice that the Justice Society characters mirror the attributes or appearances of many of Marvel’s superheros. Doctor Fate has multiple scenes that look straight out of a Doctor Strange movie. From his ability that’s almost identical to Doctor Strange’s “mirror dimension” to another power where Doctor Fate can clone his body to distract the enemy. Atom Smasher’s suit and mask also looks eerily similar to Deadpool’s uniform and the character has basically the same abilities as Marvel’s Ant Man. And finally, the Hawkman’s wing suit is essentially the same as Falcon’s mechanical wings.
These characters’ abilities and designs have existed in the comics long before any of the movies were created. I’m not implying they stole anything from Marvel, but fans will inevitably draw comparisons between the sequences in Black Adam and the iconic MCU scenes, and the similarities contribute to the sense that Black Adam has nothing new to contribute to the genre.
The film is tonally all over the place, jumping rapidly from comedy to seriousness then back to comedy. Scenes have serious music in the background to build tension, but goofy jokes and quick jump cuts undercut the mood. This is unsurprising for a movie that supposedly went into reshoots after a 60% approval rating from its first test screenings, which were worse than the reported Batgirl tests. As we’ve seen from films like the theatrical release of Justice League, lots of reshoots is generally a bad sign for the overall quality of the movie, at least from the fans’ perspectives.
Black Adam also suffers from a lack of clarity and cohesion when it comes to the villain of the story. At the 90 minute mark, if you were to ask an average viewer “Who’s the villain of this movie?” I think many of them wouldn’t be sure how to answer that question. There are at least two main conflicts: First, there’s the struggle between the people of Kahndaq and the oppressive imperial government that rules over them. Then, there’s the conflict between Black Adam and the Justice Society, since he spends most of the movie beating them to a pulp. Finally, there’s a third, less interesting storyline happening between Black Adam and Ishmael Gregor, who we eventually learn is the second Sabbac. By the time we finally learn about the main villain, Sabbac, who happens to be the descendent of the ancient ruler of Kahndaq, the story is already so muddled and confusing that you don’t really care.
There was a five minute sequence near the end where I caught myself in a trance, zoning out and losing interest in the main plot, resigning my eyes to the role of spectator of the mind-numbing, fast-paced action rather than being an active participant in the uncovering of the story.
While Black Adam is undeniably entertaining to experience with friends (how could you not enjoy seeing The Rock take missiles to the face and literally rip bad guys in half?), the film is, without exaggeration, the most archetypal superhero movie I’ve seen with regards to the writing. If you can appreciate a corny, goofy story with some fun action, definitely give this one a watch! If you’re looking for a movie that offers something new and unique to the superhero genre, Black Adam is not your best option.
David Ehrlich (IndieWire)
Not a single beat that doesn’t feel like it hasn’t been audience-tested within an inch of its life, not a single fight scene that isn’t smothered to death by the DCEU’s signature CGI gloop. ‘The superhero-industrial complex is worth a lot of money,’ a character whose name I’ve already forgotten observes at one point, and “Black Adam” becomes a part of that business with all the fun and enthusiasm of a hedge fund buying $200 million worth of blue chip stocks.”
Justin Huddleston (Likewise user)
This is a bit of a disappointment considering how much time they had to work on it. Very boring characters, uninteresting story. Nothing novel about this.
Nell Minow (Movie Mom)
Black Adam does not have a clear idea of where its title character should fall on the spectrum from anti-hero to hero. And he is tamped down emotionally for most of it, which means we get only glimpses of Johnson’s limitless charm.
Kyle Smith (Wall Street Journal)
Black Adam is a six-aspirin cacophony of pounding music, exploding fireballs, low-I.Q. badinage and laughable plot twists. Mr. Johnson, forsaking his primary skill of playing a genial lug, spends the movie with an unconvincing scowl.
If you’re interested in superhero movies that successfully pull off the humor and drama combo that Black Adam attempted, check out:
Deadpool The origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson, who, after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopts the alter ego Deadpool. Armed with his new abilities and a dark, twisted sense of humor, Deadpool hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life.
The Suicide Squad Supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and a collection of nutty cons at Belle Reve prison join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X as they are dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese.
Doctor Strange After his career is destroyed, a brilliant but arrogant surgeon gets a new lease on life when a sorcerer takes him under her wing and trains him to defend the world against evil.