Nearly 5,000 years after he was bestowed with the almighty powers of the Egyptian gods-and imprisoned just as quickly-Black Adam is freed from his earthly tomb, ready to unleash his unique form of justice on the modern world. (adapted from IMDB)
The very (very, very…) long in development DC superhero vehicle for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Black Adam, is finally here. The story centers on an anti-hero named Teth-Adam who uses his powers to free the oppressed, but does so in a violent and lethal way. His sudden reappearance in the world leads a ragtag team of D-list superheroes, calling themselves the Justice Society, to track him down to stop him. It seems silly for them to think they can defeat someone as powerful as Black Adam, but it doesn’t stop them from trying.
Admittedly, I have no knowledge of Black Adam‘s comic book history, but I do know he’s linked to DC’s Shazam, and seems to have some ties with Superman (and thanks to Dwayne Johnson, Henry Cavill is back in the blue-and-red as Superman for at least a little while longer). The film does give Black Adam ties to the Shazam lore, even having it be his keyword to transform to and from his super form (just like Shazam). I’m really curious as to where Black Adam fits into the cinematic Shazam world going forward, as well as the rest of the DC cinematic universe.
As a movie, Black Adam is kind of hit-and-miss from start to finish. It has moments of sheer comic book movie glee as well as moments of pure cringe, keeping it from really making a lasting impression. And this isn’t at all due to Johnson’s solid performance as the title character. If anything, it has a lot to do with a bunch of the film’s other characters and some story beats that feel like they’re part of a totally different movie. For starters, I’m just going to call it like it is: The Justice Society is lame. Like, really, really lame. While I did enjoy seeing Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate, his pupils – Hawkman, Atom Smasher, and Cyclone – are bottom of the barrel grade superheroes. To make matters worse, each of them has a much better Marvel cinematic counterpart that really hurts these DC iterations. I completely understand that both comic worlds have similar heroes and villains, and that DC may even have had some of them first, but I can’t shake at how counterfeit these heroes feel here. For example, when Atom Smasher (played by Mark Ruffalo soundalike Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) are alone on Hawkman’s (Aldis Hodge) ship, their interactions and performance feel more like a CW show than a feature film (and that’s not a good thing). Everything from their acting to their costumes just screams cheese. Centineo tries to be charming, but his “Giant Man” powers feel like a dollar store version of Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, and Swindell’s Cyclone just feels like the poor man’s version of Halle Berry’s Storm. Heck, even Brosnan’s Dr. Fate is like Professor X mixed with Doctor Strange, just not nearly as cool or memorable as either of those characters. This all almost feels like a big budget Sweded version of X-Men: Origins, and it’s kind of sad.
Otherwise, Johnson knocks it out of the park as Black Adam. He plays it quite serious, which makes sense for the character, and he never feels too much like “The Rock.” Person of Interest‘s Sarah Shahi is basically the film’s female lead, who awakens Black Adam in a way that is reminiscent of The Mummy (yet, it’s intentional rather than accidental). It’s about time Shahi was given a prominent role like this in a blockbuster movie. Bodhi Sabongui plays her son, Amon, who takes to Black Adam pretty quickly, and gets into the kind of trouble that helps Black Adam rethink his actions. Amon is clearly here to connect with the young viewers, but the ultra violent content makes it feel much less like a family affair. Unfortunately, the movie goes overboard with Amon’s story, leaning too heavily on his skateboarding and street smarts, and discarding all logic, hindering the movie’s tone.
Speaking of the violence, this is the film’s biggest red flag. When Black Adam awakens, we see him lift a man up by the throat and then burn the guy all the way through, seeing his skin melt off and him burn to a skeleton before Adam snaps the bones in his hand. He often burns his victims at their core with lightning, and at one point, we see a dismembered forearm drop to the ground and be focused on in-camera. There is some blood in other scenes, like when a man falls off a cliff and we see blood in his mouth and on his face as he’s dying. Later, a heavyset man is shot in the stomach and we see a small bloody spot on his clothes as he falls back. We see him again a scene or two later, lying on the floor holding his blood-covered hands over the wound. Otherwise, language is infrequent but present, with about 7 uses of the “S” word, a few of “*ss” and “h*ll,” and 1 of “Oh G-d.” There’s also no sexual content to note. The story does deal with how an ancient crown was endowed with the spirits of demons, and when the film’s villain dons the crown, we see him in Hell before he comes to life with a Satan-looking appearance. He has two big ram’s horns on his head and an upsidedown star engraved on his chest. I, personally, found the imagery uncomfortable on a spiritual level, but the story makes it clear that this is pure evil, and it’s definitely rewarding when we get to see it be defeated.
The movie’s theme seems to question what it means to be a hero, and what a hero looks like. Black Adam ruthlessly slays his victims — mainly “bad guys” who are oppressing innocent people — and when the Justice Society condemns him for it, Shahi’s Adrianna calls the Society out, asking them where they were when her people needed their help. She makes a valid point, but Black Adam’s method of handling things is questionable at best. At the very least, this movie might spark some interesting conversations.
When the dust finally settles on the mixed bag that is Black Adam, we have a movie that isn’t nearly as good or well-constructed as even other DC entries, like Shazam, Wonder Woman, or Man of Steel. The DCEU may be struggling to pull itself together — and is positioned to surprass Marvel in quality if they play their cards right — but Black Adam is not the movie that will do it. It’s further proof that the DCEU still needs help figuring out what it wants to be. Is it still an entertaining romp? Sure it is. But could it have been better, if not even much better? Absolutely. And after all the efforts made to finally get it made, it should have been.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/26/22)
4K UHD Special Features Review
If anyone has been following the Warner Bros. DC Cinematic Universe drama lately, they’ll know there’s been some serious shake-up at the film studio. While Dwayne Johnson fought really hard to keep Henry Cavill as Superman – even announcing in October that Henry was back and he filmed a cameo for this movie – the Kryptonian superhero is destined to be recast going forward. This leaves the future of Black Adam in serious question, and who knows where this movie fits into DC’s grand scheme.
With that said, Black Adam comes home as one of the first home releases of the new year, being released in a sleek 4K / Blu-Ray / Digital combo pack. The 4K picture for the movie is quite good, too. It’s crisp, colorful, and makes good use of the clarity and HDR that good 4K delivers.
Along with the feature film, the following extras are included, which are pretty good, but also get rather redundant at times:
The History of Black Adam (10:06) – Sarah Shahi hosts this as a mini documentary, giving fans a quick rundown of the comic book character’s history. Black Adam was created in 1945 as a straight-up villain that served as the opposite of Shazam. His character was an example of what can happen when someone chooses to wield that same power for evil. We then learn that the Shazam family of characters disappeared from the comic book pages for decades before reappearing in the early 70s. At this time, Black Adam was reinvented as more of an anti-hero, who would eventually join the Justice Society. Dwayne Johnson talks about what the character means to him, and how he was always a big fan.
Who is the Justice Society? (14:13) – Hawkman himself, Aldis Hodge, hosts this segment. We learn that the JSA launched in 1940 and was the first ever team of heroes! I know I slammed their appearance in the movie as being pretty cheesy, but I also figured they might even have predated the similar Marvel heroes many fans have come to know and love. Still, I have to say these characters (and those who play them), pale in comparison to so many others like them. The segment breaks down some history on Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Atom Smasher, and Cyclone, with each of their respective players talking about the character. (Annoyingly enough, Cyclone’s Quintessa Swindell has to volunteer the information that she considers herself trans and non-binary, which has nothing to do with the characters or anything. It seems ironic, too, since Cyclone is clearly a girl and treated as such.) (1 “d*mn,” 1 “a” word, 1 “h*ll,” 1 “For G-d’s sake”)
From Soul to Screen (6:06) – Here, they talk more about how Dwayne Johnson has been trying to get this movie made for over a decade. At one point, they had talked about putting Shazam and Black Adam in the same movie but couldn’t get it to work and ended up splitting it up into two separate movies. It definitely would have been interesting to see the two together in one movie eventually…
Black Adam: A Flawed Hero (5:06) – This segment reiterates a lot of the stuff said before, including how Black Adam is a different kind of hero with his own moral code.
Black Adam: New Tech in an Old World (4:46) talks about the terrorist group and their tech, designing the Hawk Jet, and some unique methods they used for filming– which included employing LED screens as scene backdrops and building the water prison set.
Black Adam: Taking Flight (3:30) covers some more of the new tech created to make Black Adam look like he’s flying and floating. They used new kinds of lifts and moving platforms to capture this effect.
Kahndaq: Designing a Nation (6:25) is about how the filmmakers had to create a country for the movie. They tried to make it look rich in culture and have a mix of technologies past and present. And they used Unreal Engine to make a virtual world that the filmmakers could walk through for scene preparation.
The ROCK of Eternity (5:39) – Cast and crew talk about the details and massiveness of the Rock of Eternity set. They also discuss the importance of the location to the story and how the actors reacted to it.
Costumes Make the Hero (8:23) goes over each hero’s costume, starting with Black Adam and the fine details in his suit. (1 bleeped “F” word, 1 “S” word, 1 “bad-a**”)
Black Adam: A New Type of Action (6:35) – The last featurette focuses on the action and fighting styles shown in the movie. Since Hawkman had lived various lives over the course of 5,000 years, they wanted to incorporate that kind of history into his fighting style. For Adam, it’s just showing his brute strength. Finally, they discuss “Teth Adam’s” fight through the watery prison and the kind of cameras they used to film the fight in slow motion. (1 “a” word)
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 1/1/23)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Vulgarity/Language: 7 “S” words, 5 “h*ll,” 4 “*ss,” 2 “d*mn,” 1 “Oh G-d,” 2 “p*ss/ed off”
Blood/Gore: We see a slave stabbed with a spear just off screen and then thrown from a cliff. We see him falling in slow motion, with a trail of blood flowing from him as he slowly falls; Black Adam appears and grabs a soldier by the throat, setting his body on fire. His clothes burn up and the skin quickly melts off his body and he turns to bones and ash as Black Adam crushes his bones in his hands; Black Adam often burns his victims at their core with lightning, and at one point, we see a dismembered forearm drop to the ground and be focused on in-camera; A man in Adrianna’s entourage falls off a cliff and we see blood in his mouth and on his face as he’s dying; A heavyset man is shot in the stomach and we see a small bloody spot on his clothes as he falls back. We see him again a scene or two later, lying on the floor holding his blood-covered hands over the wound; We see the charred body of a man after an explosion; A creature is torn in two vertically, with molten lava at its center, not blood or gore.
Violence: A man stabs another man and then throws the victim off a cliff. We see them fall in slow motion, leaving a trail of blood in mid-air; We see a young boy held down to be be-headed in execution, but he disappears and reappears elsewhere; A man suddenly hits the ground and we hear that he was injured before being thrown from a cliff (he’s bloody and can barely speak); Black Adam appears and grabs a soldier by the throat, setting his body on fire. His clothes burn up and the skin quickly melts off his body and he turns to bones and ash as Black Adam crushes his bones in his hands; Black Adam smashes, kicks, fries with lightning and punches many bad guys. At one point, he’s moving really fast, so everyone is kind of paused, and he shoves a grenade into a man’s mouth. When the speed resumes, the man pulls out the grenade and we see an explosion in the distance; Black Adam often throws his victims far distances where they land and die far away; Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Cyclone and Atom Smasher fight Black Adam in a violent and destructive sequence; Black Adam smashes through walls many times, especially in Amon’s house (and bedroom); Dr. Fate sees quick flashes of the future, including a character dying; Black Adam often burns his victims at their core with lightning, and at one point, we see a dismembered forearm drop to the ground and be focused on in-camera; A man in Adrianna’s entourage falls off a cliff and we see blood in his mouth and on his face as he’s dying; A heavyset man is shot in the stomach and see a small bloody spot on his clothes as he falls back. We see him again a scene or two later, lying on the floor holding his blood-covered hands over the wound; A flashback shows a boy getting hit by an arrow and dying; Black Adam smashes through buildings several times; A character sacrifices their life to save others; A character is stabbed and presumed dead, but we learn it’s just an illusion; A child’s life is threatened and we see in slow motion as a gun fires a bullet at his head and Black Adam jumps to deflect the bullet; A creature is torn in two vertically, with molten lava at its center, not blood or gore; and lots of other superhero violence.