Black Adam


The Plot: The kingdom of Kahndaq was once great and prosperous, but soon became enslaved to the will of its corrupt leader. A champion was sent forth to confront and defeat him – Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson). 5,000 years later, Teth-Adam is awoken by Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) in his tomb. He is needed again. Kahndaq is now under military control by foreign invaders and the people are ready for liberation. The only problem is that Teth-Adam is not particularly co-operative and has a habit of killing anyone who tries to kill or control him. Waller (Viola Davis) dispatches superhero team The Justice Society headed by Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) to negotiate with Teth-Adam, get him onside and contain him. Easier said than done…

The Verdict: After the mixed reaction to Justice League, DC recently abandoned their plans to tell interconnected stories within their superhero cinematic universe. Instead, they’ve concentrated on standalone stories like The Batman that are muscular enough to support themselves… or have they?

The 11th entry ‘Black Adam’ shows signs of DC going down the standalone route for sure, but there are spider’s webs shooting here and there into the ether to make some familiar connections (the presence of Viola Davis’ returning character Amanda Waller from ‘The Suicide Squad’ films) and a few new ones that will no doubt draw gasps of delight from fans. When Dwayne Johnson asked his own fans whether he should play Shazam or Black Adam, they picked Black Adam. Good choice – supervillains are more interesting anyway. Clearly not the same Zack Snyder fans who bizarrely hogged the Twitter-based fan awards at the Oscars earlier this year.

Black Adam dates back to a 1945 comic book and gives Johnson an interesting, ambiguous role to play around with. As Doctor Fate (a noble Pierce Brosnan bringing some gravitas to the proceedings) says to him, he can either be the world’s destroyer or its saviour. Awoken from a deep slumber and not exactly in the best of moods Black Adam proceeds to wipe out an entire army, dissolving soldiers into skeletons and crushing their weaponry into junk metal. It turns out the soldiers are the apparent bad guys, keeping Black Adam’s former hometown under military control. The ancient warrior feels out of place though. Johnson is pretty much unreadable for most of the film, barely breaking his facial expressions for a smile. The man-mountain maintains a similarly mountainous stare throughout, keeping audiences guessing as to which side his coin will fall on – or maybe it will stay suspended in mid-air. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is not a theory that Black Adam subscribes to. He’s not a team player and is in the game for his own ends.

That ambiguity is what keeps the film’s plot ticking over while it simultaneously and rather awkwardly piles one sub-plot on top of another like the corpses mounting up. Other characters enter, leave and then return only more powerful. This is a busy film with a lot of moving parts, barely taking a gasping breath to compose itself. If anything, director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, The Shallows) pushes the script onscreen to become one big third act where it’s all action, suspense and chase sequences. It gets a bit exhausting keeping up with it all. More moments of introspection for Black Adam (he has a moderately complex backstory) or throwaway humour for this big fish out of water story wouldn’t go amiss here. Just when it looks like the story is wrapping up neatly though, Collet-Serra drags it out for another half hour and unfortunately falls back into that same old Steppenwolf routine from Justice League. Did it really need that fiery, CGI-laden showdown?

Black Adam is standard hit and miss superhero stuff then. Fortunately for DC there are more hits than misses onscreen. Just about of course, but Black Adam still manages to be agreeable popcorn entertainment. There’s room for the character to develop and manoeuvre here. Though, if there’s to be more of the character in the DC cinematic universe, they should lean into Johnson’s natural charisma, sense of humour and star power engagement with an audience. Even a supervillain has to cackle with glee while rubbing his hands together at some stage. He is a supervillain, right?

Rating: 3 / 5

Review by Gareth O’Connor

Black Adam
Black Adam (USA / 12A / 125 mins)

In short: More hits than misses

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Pierce Brosnan, Aldis Hodge, Marwan Kenzari, Sarah Shahi, Viola Davis.