The one thing that can be agreed upon is that DCEU is in dire straits. Some feel that DC Entertainment needs to write off its shared universe as a failed experiment and allow filmmakers the freedom to play with the superhero setting as they see fit. Others have argued that Warner Bros. needs to have a single figure, like Kevin Feige at Marvel, curating the DCEU and maintaining a consistent aesthetic throughout the line. Then there’s the question of who that figure should be! Black Adam will not settle this dispute, but it will please almost everyone, being a game-changing film that simultaneously respects what came before.
Without giving too much away, Black Adam manages the neat trick of drawing deeply off of the comics that inspired it without getting bogged down in technobabble or continuity. It firmly establishes itself as part of the same shared universe as Man of Steel and The Suicide Squad while expanding that setting. And for those who don’t care about those little details, you get to see Dwayne Johnson spout one-liners while being badass. It should be noted, however, that Black Adam is a little more violent than earlier DCEU films, so this won’t be one to let the kids watch.
(SPOILERS FOLLOW AFTER THE IMAGE!)
The action of Black Adam is set in the fictional nation of Kahndaq, a Middle-Eastern country that boasted an impressive civilization before the days of Rome and Egypt. Legend speaks of a slave turned rebel, who freed Khandaq from a wicked tyrant who sought demonic powers, and how he will return to save Khandaq again in its time of greatest need, With Khandaq currently under the rule of the criminal syndicate known as Intergang, that time seems to be now.
Enter archeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), who awakens Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) in a moment of desperation after uncovering the mystic crown worn by Khandaq’s former ruler. Tomaz and her superhero loving son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) help Teth-Adam learn of how the world has changed during his mystic imprisonment, slowly guiding him into becoming the defender their nation needs. Unfortunately, Teth-Adam’s barbaric methods of conflict resolution set him at odds with the Justice Society of America, who are more concerned about the damage Teth-Adam might inflict on international stability than what Intergang might do with the crown. This leads to much discussion about the difference between heroes and protectors, as the truth of Teth-Adam’s legend is revealed.
The screenplay by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani is full of action, humor and ethos. Much of the humor comes from JSA elder statesmen Carter Hall (Aldis Hodge) and Kent Nelson (Pierce Brosnan) and their interactions with Teth-Adam. They are perhaps the most well-developed of the cast, with Adrianna Tomaz and her son basically filling the same role as Sarah and John Connor in Terminator 2 and the JSA rookies Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom-Smasher (Noah Centineo) not getting much to do beyond crowd control and comic relief. The script does suffer from some logic problems, with one wondering why Hawkman (who knows the truth of Teth-Adam’s past) and the prescient Doctor Fate thought that telling Teth-Adam he must kneel to their authority would ever work out well.
The performances, thankfully, are solid across the board, and the cast work wonders with what little they have to do in some cases. Dwayne Johnson is playing against type somewhat this time around, being more reserved and stoic than in his usual action roles, but he quickly masters the art of sarcasm in pointing out the hypocrisy of the American heroes. Brosnan is suitably charming and wise as Doctor Fate and Aldis Hodge steals several scenes with his take on Hawkman. Hopefully we’ll get to see him butting heads with a cinematic Green Arrow someday. The special effects work is also notably impressive.
If Black Adam has a weakness, it lies with its direction. Jaume Collet-Serra is generally good, but there are several sequences where Black Adam seems to be trying too hard to imitate the slow-motion, music videos favored by Zack Snyder. Showing Amon skateboarding around Intergang checkpoints accompanied to The Smashing Pumpkins‘ “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” is fine for setting the mood, but I was rolling my eyes when Teth-Adam fought a small army while The Rolling Stones‘ “Paint it Black” blared in the background.
Black Adam is not a perfect superhero movie, but it is a good one that treads new ground at a time when DC Comics’ movies are in desperate need of direction. Time will tell if this was the bell-toll for the DCEU or the first step forward for a DC Comics’ multiverse, but it’s an enjoyable flick either way. You’ll also want to stay through the closing credits for a taste of what might be coming next.