Black Adam is a movie that tries to explore the idea of moral absolutism. It’s an idea that certain actions will always be bad, no matter who is perpetrating them and to what end. Black Adam, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, kills virtually every threat he comes across while the superheroes that he encounters chastise him for killing. In their eyes, Black Adam is a villain because he kills, but Adam believes that sometimes there is no other option besides killing a truly awful person to stop them from killing more innocents. The world isn’t in black and white to Black Adam. It’s all gray.
Much in the same vein, Black Adam is neither a marvelous success nor a complete disaster for DC Comics. We’ve seen both wonderful and terrible films done by the company, so going into this film I was interested in seeing what we would be getting. The answer is a middle-of-the-road action blockbuster that has a lot of flaws, but nothing so egregious to ruin the movie for me. It has its strengths as well, but they just can’t overcome to helping the amount of apathy that the film generates within me. Once again, it’s all gray.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Release Date: October 21, 2022 (Theatrical)
In the nation of Kahndaq thousands of years ago, Black Adam defeated an evil king who attempted to use demonic powers to enslave the entire country. Since then, Adam has been revered as a hero by the people of Kahndaq, but he was sealed in a tomb and hasn’t been seen for five thousand years. In the present, a paramilitary group called Intergang has taken over the country and is in search of the evil king’s demonic crown, tailing an archeologist named Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) as she searches for it. She eventually discovers the crown in the tomb of Black Adam and revives him upon being confronted by Intergang, only for her to realize that Black Adam may not be the hero the people of Kahndaq thought he was. Plus, with Adam revived, a group called the Justice Society is on their way to Kahndaq in order to capture him and make sure that he doesn’t massacre the entire population with his God-like powers.
Black Adam is a very basic action movie that doesn’t do a whole lot to impress. The film seems dead set to cram in as many action scenes as possible, seemingly afraid that having infrequent action scenes will bore audiences. Even when there is a break, it’s quickly rushed through to get back to the action as quickly as possible. There’s very little time for the characters to stop and talk and get time to be characters, leaving them quite underdeveloped. They’re more like action figures that a toddler would smash together to simulate epic superhero battles. In their mind, it looks amazing and awesome, but there’s almost no substance to it.
To be fair, you don’t really need to have a ton of substance in your action movie to be good. Plenty of action movies are simple stories of good guys versus bad guys and they don’t attempt to be more than that. But that makes it weirder when the movie attempts to try and have some larger social commentary and does absolutely nothing with it.
Almost a third of the way into the movie, the Justice Society talks to Adrianna about attempting to keep the peace and stop Black Adam from causing any harm to Kahndaq. Adrianna immediately responds with a blistering repudiation of their spiel, going on about how they never cared about Kahndaq before and that their efforts to be a peacekeeping organization are worthless when Intergang held a military occupation of the country for nearly three decades and they were only taking an interest now because Black Adam may be a threat to them. I mean, she has a point, but those topics are never spoken about again after they’re brought up, making them pointless.
As far as the action scenes go, they’re perfectly fine. They’re your standard mix of CG superhero fight scenes, with every character having some kind of special effects gimmick with them. Black Adam has lightning, Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) has magical clones, Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) has wind powers, etc. Again, it’s all fine, but there aren’t any showstopping moments that will draw attention. Even in trailers, there’s usually some kind of money shot, some big setpiece to make audiences excited to see the full scope of a film when they see the final movie. Nope, not here. Most of the conflicts are really small-scale and don’t have much of an impact.
This is a side note, but if I see another slow-mo action setpiece of a superhero moving at super speed and messing with their environment, I’m going to scream. It’s been done to DEATH at this point and whenever I see slow-mo in a superhero action movie I roll my eyes. They’re always recycling those exact same gimmicks and tricks that we’ve seen plenty of times before.
The film also has a drab color palette, with most of the sets being brown, gray, and fairly lifeless. It makes sense within the context of the film (Kahndaq is in a desert after all), but there’s very little to make the film stand out visually. Combine that with frenetic editing that makes it hard to pay attention to what’s happening and you’re left with a movie that even two hours after seeing it, I find it hard to visually remember.
And then you have The Rock’s take as Black Adam. He’s been attached to this film since 2014 and has been very vocal in wanting to portray this character on the big screen. The Rock, as well as the director, wanted to make sure audiences knew that Adam was an antihero and that he wasn’t going to be softened up and made more accessible to audiences. It’s a nice sentiment, one that he keeps to throughout the film. Black Adam isn’t a nice guy and openly talks about killing, harming, and destroying anyone who gets in his way. He’s not like an antihero that you become sympathetic to like any of the cast of The Suicide Squad. He’s a bad guy who only acts like a hero when his interests line up with the greater good.
Be that as it may, if it wasn’t for The Rock being as involved as he was in the film, I would have assumed this role was just for a paycheck. The Rock seems so bored playing Black Adam, barely interjecting any energy or life into the character. He’s stern, stoic, and rarely cracks a joke, which is perfect for the character, but there’s a way to portray that without also sounding bored out of your skull. This is The Rock we’re talking about! He should be bursting with charisma! His take on Adam seems like he’d rather be anywhere but in Kahndaq, despite his character being all for protecting the country and its people from invaders at any cost. It’s not a bad rendition of the character, but it’s one that could have been way more engaging than how it ended up.
That really sums up Black Adam; it could have been so much better than it was. The Rock was a perfect choice to place the Black Adam, but his performance seems completely dispassionate. The action is unremarkable, the humor is present, the plot is straightforward, and by the time the credits roll I felt like nothing of value was gained by watching it. I don’t hate it and I didn’t feel like I wasted my time, but I also felt I could have spent my time doing anything else and it would have been just as fulfilling. As far as origin stories go, it’s perfectly fine, but hopefully, the next time we see the Rock take on the role, it’ll be more compelling and interesting than what was available here.