2022, PG-13, 124 min. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Pierce Brosnan, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Bodhi Sabongui.
REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., Oct. 28, 2022
Black Adam has been a long time coming. An idea for a Shazam! movie featuring DC's shadowy Superman was tossed around throughout the 2000s, with Dwayne Johnson expressing interest in both roles but ultimately gaining widespread fan approval for the popular DC villain. That project ultimately turned into 2019’s Shazam!, and Johnson stepped up as the producer and star for a Black Adam solo movie that has revealed itself as a full-blown passion project. Over the course of the press tour, Johnson has seemed keen to bill himself as a new major face of the infamously inconsistent DC Extended Universe, his hilarious go-to promo line being: “The hierarchy of power in the DC Universe is about to change.” After all this time, is it possible for Black Adam to truly be the film that convinces audiences of this being a viable cinematic universe?
If it is possible, this isn’t the version to do it.
This absolute clunker of an introduction to the Egyptian antihero is basically a Frankensteined assemblage of dusty bits from other movies you’ve seen before, with any of the idiosyncrasies smoothed out into a gray blob of brand extension. It’s a film that reeks of studio notes and focus-grouping, so much so I’m inclined to believe Johnson ghost-directed the thing – a movie so devoid of personality certainly syncs up with his acting style.
Alas, this thing was allegedly directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, though you’d be none the wiser if you viewed it without that knowledge. Before breaking into the big leagues with last year’s similarly dull Johnson vehicle Jungle Cruise, and now this, the director made his reputation by injecting life and verve into trashy 2000s horror pictures such as the House of Wax remake and Orphan, and energetic Liam Neeson actioners of the 2010s like Run All Night and The Commuter. We should have appreciated how good we had it, as a once admirably proficient genre craftsman has seemingly gone the way of becoming a glorified studio representative. I can hardly think of a single moment in here with real visual flair or an interesting idea. There’s the occasional Zack Snyder-style slo-mo action shot, but incorporated into a film that doesn’t share the same fascinating, near-religious reverence of superheroes as that particular director.
The story and plotting are hanging on by the barest of threads as well. The script by Adam Sztykiel, Sohrab Noshirvani, and Rory Haines flies at supersonic speed, rushing through plot developments like it’s nothing. After an egregious voiceover origin story about the titular Adam, it’s not long until we’re introduced to the man himself as he ultimately has to help mother and son Andrianna (Shahi) and Amon (Sabongui) from the occupation of their city Kahndaq by the Intergang organization. Also part of the fun is the Justice Society, a group of superheroes shoved in so quickly you may think you missed a movie. Their ranks include several key players, the most notable being Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate, who consistently looks like he would much rather be anywhere else. The ensemble plays the beats of this MacGuffin plot to a perfunctory T, practically chained to a script hitting every rudimentary beat you can think of. Not even a zombie horde from hell eventually showing up can inject any meaningful amount of life into this.
If there’s something nice to say about Black Adam, it’s that the character gets to kill bad guys with some occasionally admirable brutality. This is mostly incidental seeing as it’s inherent to his antihero status, but I did wake up a bit watching a guy disintegrate into a skeleton, another guy getting his arm torn off, and another guy getting ripped in half altogether. I also commend that the story is largely centralized on the conflict of Kahndaq, rather than becoming explicitly another save-the-world superhero movie.
But Black Adam is mostly a movie made up of strictly baseline ideas, or the regurgitation of already existing ones. I don’t see a world in which this is the movie to finally turn the tide for Warner Bros., a company with a lot riding on this after their newly appointed president seemingly started stripping the company’s assets for parts. Maybe they thought that for the amount of time this movie had been gestating it just had to be something special. But for as long as this thing has been cooking, the end result is seriously underbaked.