Look, I’m not here to tell you how you should feel about “Black Adam.” Admittedly, the real challenge about a superhero (or anti-hero, but that’s using the term VERY loosely) movie like this one is no matter what my critique is- good, bad, or indifferent- there will be enough lines drawn in the sand for me to be wrong. So there’s no real right choice for a critic here. I can say I loved it, and get dragged through the mud for praising a bad film. Or I can say it absolutely sucked, and then have to spend the next month being trolled by DCEU fanboys who swear I don’t understand movies.
So I’m at an impasse, because “Black Adam” commits some of the worst mistakes in its genre, but by its very nature is designed to be a big, loud, dumb crowd pleaser. And that’s fine, and frankly, that’s about all this movie ends up being. It is a move that exists in 2022, one that has a beginning, middle, and end. It even has characters played by people you’ll recognize and credits at the end. And it would feel right at home were that existence a superhero film in 2003, not twenty something years after we’ve passed all the things “Black Adam” is comprised of.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (“The Shallows,” “Jungle Cruise“) and written by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, “Black Adam” tells the story of a slave who became a demi-god, who’s rage and reckless destruction left him imprisoned for 5000 years. In a search for ancient artifact said to have magic powers from demons, Black Adam is unleashed on our modern world. His resurgence calls for the Justice Society to try and imprison him before he destroys everything again. But another danger is brewing, one that may need all the powers of Black Adam to save the world instead of destroy it. He may not be a hero, but the world may need him as a protector.
If all of that sounds vaguely familiar, well, that’s because it is. “Black Adam” isn’t much more than the sum of the most cliche of superhero tropes, offering little to no surprises or imagination. Powerful guy with a tragic backstory, vague bad guys with guns after a macguffin, human characters caught in the middle for um…reasons? and big battle with big bad CGI evil and BAM! We have hero! Predictability is all well and fine, as that’s essentially the nature of the genre itself. But this film has gone out of its way to market itself as something different and something more, and the end result is that it’s neither. It’s exactly like everything else that has ever come before it. And even worse, furthers the dumb shtick of trying to make heroes out of villains. AGAIN. At some point, DC isn’t going to have anyone left to fight because every single character in everyone’s rogue gallery is now a hero. It is exhausting watching this happen over and over again, and “Black Adam” quickly reminds us just how stupid this whole idea has become.
The entire promotion is predicated on the idea that Black Adam isn’t a hero, because he kills people. And sure, he does. But he exclusively kills bad guys with guns, something even goody two-shoes Captain America has absolutely no problem doing so long as its nameless, faceless henchmen. There is nothing that differentiates Black Adam from any other hero in the entire genre, and it’s hard to reconcile the film’s advertising with what actually happens in the film. Sure, you can make the argument that you didn’t watch any of the marketing, and therefore this point is moot. But I don’t believe anyone that can claim they’ve been that blind. Half the pre-show before every movie is 4 different movie personalities TELLING you how different it’s going to be. Hell, The Rock himself won’t shut up about how different and revolutionary this film is, so it’s kind of hard to ignore the fact that it turns out to be none of those things.
On the front, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is fine (there’s that word again) as the titular superhero, and actually tailors back his charm and does his best to be something slightly different. In the end it’s not really enough, just a more gruff, less quippy version of every character you’ve ever seen him play. But I guess I have to give him credit for trying something in “Black Adam,” which is more than anyone can say for, oh I don’t know, Chris Pratt in the upcoming “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” The real standouts here are the Justice Society, who feel like they dropped in from a completely different movie we never got but are expected to have watched already. Led by Aldis Hodges as Hawkman, Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate, Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher, and Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone, they make up the Justice Society, essentially the D-List heroes of the Justice/Suicide Whatever League or Squad. They feel like an afterthought, largely unnecessary to the plot overall but truthfully the most enjoyable part of the entire mess of a film. They’re all clearly excited to be here, and a superhero buddy comedy is a much better idea than anything “Black Adam” is doing.
And then there’s that damn kid, the random son of the random woman we’re suppose to care about but is nothing more than a human character tact on to the plot because we can’t have a superhero movie without them. And of course, this kid has to be THE reason Black Adam becomes hero. Everything this kid does made my eyes role, and I wanted to watch a recut version where he’s cut from this thing completely. Halfway through I was like, who MADE this? Shane Black? Of all the tropes you can add into a movie, why in the world did you think “Iron Man 3” level of adventures in babysitting was good idea in Black fucking Adam?
On second thought…
You know what? No, “Black Adam” is a gigantic mess of a movie, taking the worst parts of all of the worst DCEU films and throwing them on The Rock’s giant shoulder hoping he can carry it to victory. It’s boring, overstuffed, nonsensical even for a world of make believe, and abandons subplots faster than it can introduce them. The “I’m not a hero” is about as repetitive as “evil dies tonight” in “Halloween Kills,” and never actually makes any sense because everything he does is heroic. Even his origin story- that’s SUPPOSED be villainous- is literally why he got the powers in the first place. “Black Adam” is a hero’s origin story through and through, with a full on character arc from fish out of water to full blown protector and hero. Every moment they spend trying to convince you otherwise is desperate and forced, and whatever it is they’re trying to set up falls flat.
He starts and ends as a hero, and the idea that he’s somehow going to be another villain the for the Justice League is stonewalled. They only path forward is to set up another “Martha” moment, which even the most fervent of Snyderdorks have to admit we don’t want. “Black Adam” is exhaustingly stupid, and adds nothing to an already bloated genre. It doesn’t even change the trajectory of whatever path (or lack there of) the DCEU is on. This film just exists, and having to sit through two hours of inexplicably cacophony of more lightening powers just seen a 20 second teaser at the end isn’t worth the time wasted.
Oh, and as a final side note: this flick features an action scene with “Power” by Kanye West over it. Doctor Fate can’t actually predict the future, and that particular song makes sense in the context of the film. But holy shit it has already not aged well, and it sadly became a massive cringe moment. I’m not holding this one against the film, but it’s worth mentioning how quickly uncomfortable a go to action movie banger has become.
So yeah, saying “Black Adam” is fine is being generous. Am I a stuffy old critic that can’t enjoy things? I guess. But I don’t have to like everything, and even if I dislike something- it doesn’t mean you’re wrong for enjoying it. I didn’t, and “Black Adam” is another major misfire for the troubled studio.
I guess I’ll see you all in the comments on Facebook.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
“Black Adam” is now playing in theaters. You can watch the trailer below.