A movie long in the making, DCEU’s latest “Black Adam” stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. A superhero film trying to make a statement about the West’s imperialistic tendencies against the backdrop of the Middle East, the makers certainly try to do too much within the runtime of 2 hours and 4 minutes. While some things work, mainly in the film’s smooth first half, others simply fall flat.
The movie begins by taking us 5000 years into the past, in the ancient land of Kahndaq. We see the tragic back story involving a magical demon crown, a gaggle of wizards and a people’s rebellion. In the present day, Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), an archaeologist, puts together a team to dig for the Crown of Sabbac. She believes the crown can confer great power, which she could use to overthrow the regime with the help of her hero-obsessed son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) and her bumbling brother, Karim (Mohammed Amer). We hear about the superhero industrial complex, and fleeting remarks of how the Western troops have been intruding on the life of this dictatorial place. But before we could get a sense of place and soak in the film’s promising world building, “Black Adam” introduces us to a plethora of new characters having paper-thin emotional context (or any, whatsoever) to latch onto.
Black Adam has some rage issues and an inconvenient habit of carelessly zapping baddies to death with his lightning power skills. He is, as the movie reminds you every once in a while, not a hero. So of course, to oppose this anti-hero, there’s the Justice Society that we’re introduced to (a play in for the American foreign policy beyond the west). Being an antihero who already has a lot of overlap in how he’s been handed powers in ways similar to that of Shazam’s, “Black Adam” had just one job to successfully portray. It was all about how the makers would set up a character, who was otherwise so organically tied into the DC lore. The casting of ‘The Rock’ may work for some, and not for others; it’s going to be mainly based on how you look at the charismatic actor and how your personal relationship with the comic book character has been over the decades. Teth-Adam was always a more methodical and calculative character, one that unflinchingly would go kill guys without much second thought. The movie does somewhat stay consistent with those traits, and the 50-year old actor’s deadpan approach at dealing with humor mostly works like a charm. But it’s the over-use of slowmos and the constantly pounding and intrusive soundtrack that hinders the audience from penetrating beyond, disallowing us to fully get engrossed into this universe filled with exciting possibilities. There’s also some weird and off-putting use of ADR that becomes apparent more than once.
“Black Adam” opens with a promo for the upcoming Shazam movie due next March. In the film’s post-credit scene, we are reminded of how the movie’s sole purpose is to pitch one of its characters against another established hero in the future films. It’s 2022, and we’re at the peak of the long-lasting superhero fatigue. Maybe the makers need to understand that filler outings are not something the comic book audience would need right now. The movie is now playing in theaters around you.