Our review for Black Adam details how the DC anti-hero's big screen debut suffers from far too many issues that other modern superhero movies have already solved.
What does it mean to be a hero? That’s the question posed by Black Adam, DC’s origin story about a super-violent anti-hero, but it struggles to find the answer amid a tiring string of non-stop action scenes.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as a powerhouse from ancient times who explodes into the present day with a bad attitude and lots of flashy lightning effects, but unfortunately he’s not the only thing from the distant past. The whole movie feels like it was made a few decades ago, before the golden age of superhero movies, and carries none of the wisdom Hollywood has learned from the likes of The Dark Knight and Iron Man. It’s made clunky by too much exposition, the villain is one-dimensional, and there’s an over-reliance on spectacle over character and story. There are some flashes of brilliance here and there, largely thanks to the members of the Justice Society, but overall Black Adam fizzles out.
It certainly did start out with a lot of potential. The JSA comic run featuring Black Adam is one of DC’s all-time greats, as it showed how his brutal sense of justice made even the most upstanding heroes reexamine the line between what’s right and wrong. While this film doesn’t directly adapt those comics, it does try to embrace the themes that made them great. Thus, the topic of superhero morality is the crux of the story, and there’s a lot of talk about heroes and villains, good and evil, and killing versus mercy, but the debate devolves into a confusing garble of platitudes. By the end, it’s hard to say who stands where on the subject, and why.
Johnson plays Black Adam in the same vein as Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: a stoic, seemingly soulless killing machine gains a glimmer of humanity and even a sense of humor. While he gets top marks for making his Black Adam just as steely and imposing as in the comics, the character feels a bit too confident and powerful. This makes him come across as one-note when there are clearly more layers begging to be explored.
Johnson gets top marks for making his Black Adam just as steely and imposing as in the comics“
The main figure opposing his violent ways is Justice Society member Hawkman, played by Aldis Hodge. While the veteran hero is a sight to behold with his gleaming wings and energized mace, his character feels criminally underdeveloped. Hawkman has one of the most notoriously complicated backstories in all of comics, so it’s understandable why the writers wouldn’t delve too deeply into alien reincarnation lore in another character’s movie, but, at the very least, he could have benefited from there being a foundation for his strong beliefs on delivering justice with compassion.
Instead, Hawkman mainly serves as a punching bag, both physically and metaphorically. He spends a majority of his screen time getting his bird butt kicked, and the rest of the time he’s attempting to persuade Black Adam to act more like a typical “hero.” Of course, this unintentionally makes a hypocrite out of Hawkman by virtue of a certain morally bankrupt mastermind he chooses to align himself with, plus he has no good answer for the people of a wartorn country when they question why his team of supposed heroes never came to save them.
Hawkman spends a majority of his screen time getting his bird butt kicked.“
On top of that, it’s hard to take Black Adam and Hawkman’s debate about whether it’s okay for heroes to kill evil-doers seriously when the film often makes jokes out of the outlandishly brutal way Black Adam murders them, not to mention the DCEU is a place where we've already seen premiere heroes Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman take lives.
The rest of the Justice Society have their ups and downs. Pierce Brosnan delivers a charming and mysterious performance as Doctor Fate, although the script tries to do too much with his character without spending enough of their two hours of screen time to earn it. To help deal with Black Adam the team recruits Atom Smasher and Cyclone, and Noah Centineo and Quintessa Swindell have instant chemistry as two budding young heroes, but they don’t have a noticeable effect on the plot. That’s a shame, especially for Centineo, as his Atom Smasher is the most earnest and entertaining hero of the bunch. Everyone else spends most of their time explaining the MacGuffin or their backstory.
Black Adam feels both overstuffed and underdeveloped.“
With a bit too much going on, Black Adam feels both overstuffed and underdeveloped. It bites off more than it can chew when it comes to squeezing the origin of its main character, four members of the Justice Society, a trio of relatable human characters, and a villain for them to fight all in one movie. Most of these elements feel shortchanged, and it’s hard not to feel as though that’s because so much emphasis was put on the relentless barrage of action scenes.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with a superhero movie being driven by action, especially one featuring a Superman-level character. But when it’s the same kind of action on repeat, where we see Black Adam perform an endless string of PG-13 Mortal Kombat Fatalities against nameless goons, then it starts to get old. After about the fourth scene of him mowing down dozens of baddies who didn’t stand a chance, I started to wonder why a sort of “Black Adam Kryptonite'' was introduced in the first act but none of the bad guys thought to use it against him later on. It would have made things a little more interesting to have him face an enemy he couldn’t simply snap in half, at least.
There are heaps of action scenes featuring the Justice Society, too. Cyclone’s beautiful twisters are a unique joy to watch and they add some welcome color to the film’s visual palette. On the other hand, Doctor Fate’s abilities look a bit too similar to what we saw Marvel’s Doctor Strange do in Avengers: Infinity War, so it’s a shame they didn’t give Fate a more distinct visual identity.
Also, it has to be said how incredibly strange it is for this Black Adam movie to completely ignore the fact that the character is intrinsically linked to Zachary Levi’s Shazam – to the point where the two share the same powers, transformation word, and lightning bolt logo – and instead make several references to Superman as a rival instead. Considering there’s a second Shazam movie in the works while Superman is pretty much MIA following 2017’s Justice League, that’s a heck of a choice.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Joshua Yehl