Black Adam | Review

★★

Things don’t exactly get off to a promising start with Black Adam. It’s all a bit Scorpion King – and not only because of the Dwayne Johnson connection. There’s an oddly echo laden narration. The grading is dire. As for the narrative itself, it all feels immediately suffocated by its grandiose sense of self importance. The mythos is as nonsensical as the setting is bizarrely groundless. Somewhere Middle Eastern, potentially but inconclusively on a different planet, and yet in an age long before the pyramids were built. Not that you’d think it from the fashion. A more adventurous romp will eventually ascend from the hogwash but only in the sense that it’s prelude achieved such a sterling feat in crippling expectations.

Johnson is Teth-Adam. He’s a Kahndaqi slave in the opening and later rediscovered beholden of the powers of Shazam. Superhuman abilities bequeathed him via the very same Council of Wizards that turned Asher Angel into Zachary Levi back in 2019. Though originally attached to that film, when Johnson turned down Levi’s super in favour of Black Adam – Shazam’s then villain – it was deemed a waste not to give the character his own blockbuster. The logic is clear. In a tough era for the multiplex, Johnson has crowd drawing credentials. Many a likely flop has been saved by his winning smile and megawatt charisma.

Not so much here. Johnson’s Teth-Adam is appealing but dour by default. Anyone would be with this back story. Adam is a formerly oppressed slave turned demigod who emerges from three thousand years of entrapment to a world that treats him as a threat. He’s an antihero with a brutal approach to dispatching ne’er do wells. There is humour in the horror – think Marvel’s deadpan Drax the Destroyer – but it’s an uneasy fit. The Rock’s a broad comic, sure, but he’s warm too and twinkly and surprisingly wry. Dave Bautista makes it look easy and it’s disappointing to find Johnson less able with the delivery. True, he’s not helped by a woefully inconsistent script and writing that can never quite decide how self-aware and even wise Black Adam should be, but even so.

More successfully characterised are those more conventional heroes of the so-called Justice Society. They’re the ones sent in by a briefly featured Viola Davies, reprising Suicide Squad’s Amanda Waller. Don’t for a minute confuse them with DC’s other Justice team. the League – you might actually want to spend time with these folk. There’s Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman, all macho and worthy, In Treatment’s Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone and Noah Centineo’s goofy but lovable Atom Smasher. Pierce Brosnan oversees the trio in the role of wisened old statesman Doctor Fate, a kind of Cumberbatch meets Stewart hybrid with a cosplay friendly mask. Their mission is to neutralise the unknown Adam and – on a more subversive level – to lighten things up and prove that it’s not just Marvel that can beat out the banter.

While Adam seeks justice by any means necessary, the Society are more traditional in their do-gooding. Bridging the divide are mother and son Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) and Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) Tomaz, locals of modern day Kahndaqi with admirably potent political voices. Commentary on self determinism in colonial battlegrounds brings a surprising but welcome additional layer here. Even more so as things descend into very typical finale punch ups. Progressive idealism isn’t enough to save Black Adam from its flaws but Jungle Cruise director Jaume Collet-Serra’s efforts go a fair way nonetheless.

Equally – oddly – winning is Collet-Serra’s peculiar interest in referencing a broad range of cultural touch points. A Howard Carter inspired plot point, for instance, allows the production design to embrace all things Indiana Jones. Earlier, the introductory sequence gifted the Justice Society somewhat randomly leans into Thunderbirds territory. If the rest of the film had enjoyed such spontaneously joviality, Black Adam might well have found somewhere more entertaining to go.

T.S.

One thought on “Black Adam | Review”

  1. I thought Black Adam was ok, a much better film than I was expecting TBH. It was fun and action packed, the plot didn’t make much sense, but the visual effects were very impressive. Cool to see my favourite JSA characters appear as well.

    Like

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