Black Adam, the first film devoted to the DC Comics anti-hero, has pace and power thanks to dizzying action, spectacular visual effects, and Dwayne Johnson, who is joined by a cast of colorful co-actors. The film’s energy, on the other hand, is entirely cosmetic.
Isn’t the long-running action-adventure less than the sum of its parts? The portions that work, particularly Johnson’s huge star power, carry the majority of the weight. The genre conventions, packaged and presented in gleaming packages, fall short of expectations.
The focus of Black Adam is, predictably, on the eponymous figure and the performer who plays him on film – both of whom are obviously powerful. The plot takes a back seat in the process, but it is not totally out of the running.
The prequel to 2019’s Shazam! spares little time in explaining how Adam Teth, a hero, champion, and legend, became Black Adam. From then on, the picture moves at a steady speed. As a result, the Black Adam is far tighter than other superhero films.
It never loses steam. If anything, there are instances in the film when it might have benefited from a slight slowing down. It conveys information at a rapid speed, which tends to dominate the surface stimuli of a well-crafted film with its share of highs.
Black Adam, written by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, is a short two-hour affair, which is one of its strongest points. The nonstop flow of set pieces, while familiar, does not outstay its welcome.
Dwayne Johnson, well aware that he is the main attraction, steps to the plate with ease. However, no matter how hard he tries, he is unable to mask the superhero movie tropes that the character must contend with as he battles his own rage and the harsh skepticism of the Justice Society’s deployed superheroes.
The performers that play JSA members had their moments, particularly Aldis Hodge and Quintessa Swindell. Sarah Shahi and Bodhi Sabongui, who play a mother-and-son combo, agree. Doctor Fate, played by Pierce Brosnan, also makes an appearance. But Black Adam is entirely Dwayne Johnson’s flick. There isn’t a single instance that says otherwise.
The struggle of a tortured but invincible protagonist who walks a fine line between heroism and villainy is the main conflict point in a spectacular tentpole production that, while serving up everything expected of it, manages to articulate an anti-imperialist stance, advocating the cause of colonized people who have been exploited and robbed of their resources for eons.
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But could Black Adam pave the door for a new DCEU franchise aimed at delivering megahits in the coming years? It has the look and feel of a picture destined to usher in a new age. The fate of the next films will be determined entirely by what Warner-DC can bring to the table. That would have to be far more than what Black Adam provides.
Black Adam opens with an opening flashback that transports the spectator to 2600 BCE and the fictitious Middle Eastern kingdom of Kahndaq, previously “a center of strength and wisdom” but now governed by a terrible dictator, King Ahn-Tok.
The enslaved Kahndaqi people labor in mines to collect sternum, a mystical material from which the nation’s monarch draws unfathomable abilities. From among them, a slave child emerges and challenges the King. He kills the tyrant and ascends to the status of a demi-god among his people.
The Council of Wizards bestows invincibility on Adam Teth. But, driven by excessive wrath, he exploits his godlike abilities to exact revenge and is expelled from the kingdom and imprisoned. The character of Black Adam is born.
The film jumps forward 5,000 years and informs the audience, through the voiceover of a young current Kahndaqi boy, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), who believes a hero will arrive each day to liberate a people under foreign military occupation for 27 years, that the nation’s misfortunes have never stopped.
Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), Amon’s mother and a resistance fighter and university professor with an extensive understanding of ancient relics, unwittingly summons the long-dormant Black Adam. He then slaughters numerous armed Intergang members, the multinational mercenaries in control of the Kahndaq, as they try to close in on the Crown of Sabbac. Adrianna is the only thing standing between the mercenaries and the treasured relic.
The reappearance of Black Adam prompts Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to dispatch Carter Hall/Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Albert Rothstein/Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) of the Justice Society to Kahndaq to apprehend the rampaging Adam.
When the foursome arrives in Kahndaq, Black Adam kicks into high gear and unleashes a torrent of twists and turns. Adrianna’s and her son’s problems escalate when hostile forces kidnap him to compel his mother’s hand.
Adrianna’s electrician-brother Karim (Mohammed Amir) joins forces with the couple to keep the Crown of Sabbac from falling into the wrong hands. Hawkman tries to stop Black Adam from carrying on with his brand of swift and catastrophic justice. A descendant of King Ahn-Tok appears to seize the precious crown that everyone desires.
Caught between the two, Doctor Fate, who can glimpse the future, urges Hawkman to use the time they have to change the future. Later, he begs Black Adam not to “give up on us,” saying that the “world needs you.” Will the audience feel the same way after witnessing Black Adam?
Black Adam is a fast-paced thriller. One simply goes with the flow. It does not allow you to halt and reflect. That means Black Adam and the lead actor who holds the picture together have provided their money’s worth, according to the vocabulary of superhero movie aficionados. The issue is whether a little extra would have injured anyone.