Synopsis: Nearly 5,000 years after he was bestowed with the almighty powers of the Egyptian gods, Black Adam is freed from his earthly tomb, ready to unleash his unique form of justice in the modern world.
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Bodhi Sabongui, Pierce Brosnan
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Running Length: 124 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: The DC Extended Universe continues to expand, introducing more characters to audiences that might not be exactly household names. With the Supermans, Batmans, Wonder Womans, etc. all getting their own films (and working together) to varying degrees of success, it’s likely time to turn the attention to this periphery which is where many of the true fan favorites reside. That’s why you have successful outings like 2019’s Shazam and non-starters like both attempts to make the Suicide Squad happen in 2016 and 2021.
A long-time pet project of star Dwayne Johnson, the character of Black Adam was introduced in comics nearly eighty years ago, and rumors of a movie also began around that time. Ok, not really, but in a Hollywood timeline, tracing the first rumblings back to 2007 seems like a long gestation period. It’s taken that long for DC to work out the order of their releases and where the character could potentially fit into their film series, which, with the release of this 11th film, is strangely only in Phase 1. As Johnson became more of an in-demand and bankable movie star, the schedule became tighter, but his commitment to starring as the anti-hero superhero remained.
Viewing the finished film, you can see what attracted Johnson to the character in the first place. Built on family bonds and the fulfillment of a legacy, it appeals to many of the principles of unity Johnson likes to instill in his projects. It also is an over-the-top special effects maelstrom of action sequences that are barely held together by a plot that, in retrospect, doesn’t move the dial any further in the DC Extended Universe than where we began. Despite a genuinely jaw-dropping post-credit sequence that had our audience screaming, Black Adam is a “what you see is what you get” event, so you need to hold on tight and try to keep up.
Since this is the first time we see the character, this is (sigh) another origin story, and the three screenwriters don’t spare the viewer any shortcuts in telling how a young slave boy in 2600 BC is granted mighty powers due to his demonstrated bravery. Becoming a hero to the people of Kahndaq, his powers eventually grow so great that when he’s pushed past all loss of control, he wipes the city off the map entirely, including himself. Over time, he becomes a legend and a symbol of hope for the people of Kahndaq as they again fall under the regime of oppressive leaders.
Jumping ahead to the present, we join a group of fortune seekers attempting to locate the Crown of Sabbac in the old ruins of Kahndaq. Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi, I Don’t Know How She Does It) understands the weight of power the crown holds, the power-hungry king who once tried to obtain it had to be stopped by Teth-Adam (he won’t be called Black Adam until the end of the film), which led to the city’s original downfall. Now others are aware of the crown being uncovered and are coming for it. Before being captured, she tries a final option to save herself, reading an inscription on a stone found in the ruins, which brings forth Teth-Adam (Johnson, Skyscraper) from his grave.
Unaware that thousands of years have passed, it takes a while for Teth-Adam to learn restraint in battle. Who wants a restrained superhero, though? He’s a cranky guy that doesn’t like being told what to do, especially by a crew from the Justice Society that is sent in to keep him from creating mayhem. Sent in by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, The Woman King), they are led by Hawkman (a fantastic Aldis Hodge, One Night in Miami…) and also include Doctor Fate (an impressively active Pierce Brosnan, GoldenEye), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell, Voyagers), and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo, Charlie’s Angels). That’s four more characters to get to know quickly in a movie that comes in just slightly over two hours.
Most of the film is Teth-Adam either fighting as one man against the Justice Society or grudgingly working with them to defeat a villain after the Crown of Sabbac intent on bringing hell to earth. With most of the action taking place within the same limited vicinity in Kahndaq, Black Adam feels more minor than the prominent epic director Jaume Collet-Serra (Jungle Cruise) wants it to be. The visuals are impressive, but after a time, you start to question if you’ve somehow skipped backward and seen the same sequence a second time.
With the DC Extended Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuing to churn their movies out rapidly, it may be building a larger-than-life web of interconnected stories and characters. Still, it’s at the cost of ultimate satisfaction with their films. A feeling of no stakes permeates each film, regardless of quality. What’s to keep you on the edge of your seat if you know another movie is coming out in six months? Finality creates tension, tension creates excitement, and excitement drives ticket sales, and it’s no wonder the box office receipts for these remain profitable but not as sky-high as they once were. Audiences have caught on and know the game. As well made as Black Adam is, it’s just a first step in the character’s journey toward another film and then another. It’s nice to meet you, Black Adam…see you soon.