Black Adam (2022) Review
ALL JOHNSON AND NO SUBSTANCE
The DCEU has certainly had its fair share of problems along its planned trajectory. As Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) continues to provide moviegoers everywhere with its extensive cinematic library of Marvel character superhero adventures, the DCEU is trying to play catch up with its own realm of costumed heroes and superhuman beings. The studio, which falls under the movie studio control of Warner Bros. Pictures, has had a difficult time in producing a successful formula in trying to convey DC Comics of superheroes into cinematic endeavor for moviegoers to enjoy. This is apparently known in the spilt decisions of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the problematic efforts in 2016’s Suicide Squad, and the disappointing presentation of 2017’s Justice League, with most finding these projects (in general terms) not meet to the standards of what was promised. This is even further expanded upon other endeavors such as 2020’s Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman 1984, which faced very differences of opinions from reviews and moviegoers alike, as well as the DCEU shake-up, with future projects being pushed back, shuffled around, and even shelving them completely (the now unreleased Batgirl film). That being said, the DCEU is starting to find its groove, especially after the release of 2017’s Wonder Woman, 2018’s Aquaman, and 2019’s Shazam!; finding those feature films to have their own swagger and appeal that works in both film storytelling and entertainment purpose for audiences. Now, following the more favorable release of 2021’s Suicide Squad, Warner Bros Studios and director Jaume Collet-Sera gears up for the next installment in the DCEU with the release of Black Adam. Given the inherit and anticipation for this project, does this superhero soar high to blockbuster glory or is it just a derivate and messy production that doesn’t go anywhere?
In the middle eastern country known as Kahndaq, the villainous crime syndicate called Intergang has claimed the land for their own, putting the locals under their control as they harvest their natural resources, including Eternium. Young boy named Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) wants to push back against the invaders of his homeland by causing trouble, while his mother, Adrianna (Sarah Shahl), is an archaeologist is in search of the fabled Crown of Sabbac, a magical object that’s capable of bringing the wearer tremendous power. While searching for the crown in a nearby crypt, Adrianna also uncovers an ancient tomb, and when threatened with encroaching Intergang enforcers, she manages to free Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson), a being from the ancient world that has been imbued with incredible superpowers, from his slumberous prison. Returning to Kahndaq, Amon tries to encourage Teth-Adam to become a hero for the people, with the recently awakened man’s god-like strength and Shazam magic easily defeating aggressors. Investigating this strange arrival is the Justice Society, with superhero veterans Kent Nelson / Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and Carter Hall / Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) leading the charge as well as recruit newcomers Maxine Hunkel / Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Albert “Al” Rothstein / Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) are tasked with deciding just how dangerous Teth-Adam truly is. Unbeknownst to all parties, another party is looking for the Crown of Sabbac, who seeks to claim the ancient power for his own and seeking dominion of nightmare consequences.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
It’s very easy to point out that the differences between the MCU and DCEU have been. It’s basically night and day type of experience, with one studio finding its rhythm (albeit formulaic in some regards) yet proving to be effective, while the other struggles to find its stride. Yes, I’ll admit that I did like Man of Steel (probably one of the select few who did) as well as Wonder Woman (love actress Gal Gadot as Diana Prince) and Aquaman (the sheer epic scope of the feature is amazing), but the DCEU has been problematic with their other release (i.e. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman 1984, and Justice League). Those features, while promising with plenty of superhero nuances and inherit hype from its pre-release marketing, didn’t exactly match up to what many (including myself) expected, which is reflected upon the feedback from moviegoers and the “behind the scenes” shake up of the franchise, leaving the continuation of the DCEU in a somewhat ambiguous limbo state, which is in contrast to the how the MCU is presenting its feature films. Yet, some of their recent endeavors have barked a bit up fruit than others, including the much more favorable representation of the Suicide Squad in the 2021 film as well as the vastly superior director’s cut of Justice League in 2021’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In the end, it’s kind of hard to tell what direction Warner Bros Studios is charting for the DCEU, especially with the company being merger is Discovery. Let’s hope for the best!
This, of course, brings me back to talking about Black Adam, a 2022 superhero film and the 10th installment in the DCEU lineup (11th one if you include Zack Snyder’s Justice League). Given the various notions that the DCEU has recently had with its struggle of trying to find its particular so-called “cinematic groove”, I was kind of curious when Black Adam was first announced, especially with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson playing the titular lead character role. Of course, Johnson has acted before in a variety of action and comedy endeavors, but not in the superhero genre. I do like Johnson in several of his movies (love him in Moana, the Jumanji movies, and all the Fast and Furious features that he’s in), so I was kind of interested to see how the former wrestler turned actor was going to handle such a leading superhero character role such as Black Adam. From that point onward, I really didn’t hear much about the movie. I mean I heard about it, but nothing about the cast or the plot or the director or anything like that. Only that it was going to be a very “hyped up” blockbuster feature for the DCEU. Of course, my first really impression for the movie came in the form of the movie trailers for Black Adam, which were heavily featured a lot during the “coming attractions” previews every time I went out to the movie theaters. From that alone, the movie looked pretty good and looked like Johnson was going to be the right fit for such a stoic no-nonsense type of antihero character. Thus, I was curious to see Black Adam and went to see during its opening day on October 21st, 2022. And what did I think of it? Well, I have to say that I was quite disappointed with the movie. Despite have a bit of fun with its non-stop action and a very suitable fit of Johnsons as the titular character, Black Adam feels like dated and generic superhero origin movie that has little substance to sustain such a popular character. There’s a few redeem qualities, but that’s not enough and makes the whole endeavor just borderline mediocre. And that’s a shame for a movie that’s been super hyped up as the “next big thing” for the DCEU.
Black Adam is directed by Jaume Collet-Sera, whose previous directorial works includes Non-Stop, The Shallows, and Jungle Cruise. Given his familiarity with suspenseful thrills and action sequences in those films, Collett-Sera seems like a suitable choice to direct a promised action-packed superhero film of which Black Adam is being touted as such. Thus, for that effort alone, I do commend Collet-Sera’s direction for making the movie embracing the various action scenes throughout the feature. I personally think that the action scenes were better in the first half rather than latter half, but (overall) the movie does promise that high octane action sequences that were shown in the trailers. In that regard, I think that Collet-Sera succeeds in making the action very frenetic and fun to watch. There is violence to be had in the film (Black Adam is rated PG-13) and there are few moments to see how Teth-Adam deals with bad guys in an almost Mortal Kombat finishing move. Basically, Collet-Sera knows what moviegoers want to see and delivers that in the movie; finding the action scenes to be some of the best part that Black Adam has to offer. It’s nothing mind-blowing or incredibly awesome, but it is something that entertaining to see, which Black Adam heavily banks on.
There are a few storytelling beats and elements that do technically work in Black Adams’s narrative, with Collet-Sera staging them for some poignant mean Of course, I do like the whole “hero awakening in modern day” of which the movie that heavy uses when Teth-Adams awakes in present day Kahndaq and seeing him interact with modern technology and objects. Of course, this particular usage has been many times before, but the execution of it all is amusing to watch in the film as a fun gag of sorts. Of course, I do like the more fantastical fantasy elements of superhero features, with Black Adam heavily steeped in that notion, with plenty of mystical vistas, powerful beings, and the usage of magic. I’ve always gravitated towards movies like that and, while not super exciting as other endeavors, I still appreciate the movie embracing that fantasy superhero element. As for the emotional part, I did like how Collet-Sera stages a few one of them as well as few poignant means, including why the JS (or any other superhero for that matter) haven’t stepped in to stop the Intergang organization from oppressing the people of Kahndaq, but only came to the war-torn country to stop Teth-Adam. It may be a little plot point to discuss or examine, but I do like it and poises an interesting question on the nature of superheroes and what they deem worth to get involved.
In the presentation category, Black Adam meets the industry standards for what a current superhero blockbuster feature film is called for. It doesn’t push the boundaries of modern cinematics of comic book film endeavors, yet it still keeps to the tradition and spirit of one. Of course, it’s kind of interesting to see most (if not all) of the movie being located in a Middle Eastern-esque country (Kahndaq) and not in some generic “big city” in the USA. Plus, while we are on that topic, I did like how Black Adam does have a few prominent key characters being played by Middle Eastern talents. Anyways, the setting showcases of various war-torn areas, including a decrepit cityscape of which a lot of the film’s battles fought on, which makes the whole action scenes fun to watch. This also includes several fantastic places that (again) use the film’s fantasy elements, that help build the ancient powers that are at play from the old world. Thus, while the movie isn’t perfect, I do have to give credit to several of the movie’s “behind the scenes” team, including Tom Meyer (production design), Larry Dias (set decorations), Kurt and Bart (costume design), and the entire art direction department. Additionally, the cinematography work by Lawrence Sher has some good moments that help build dramatic cinematics throughout the movie. Even a few crucial areas are overused (more on that below). Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Lorne Balfe, is actually pretty good. There’s plenty to like about it as it is charged with plenty of pounding bombastic pieces as well as few quieter / chanting suites that help build the more dramatic / uplifting moments. A pretty solid score from Balfe.
Unfortunately, Black Adam isn’t all the hype that everyone was hoping for, with huge and glaring problematic areas that hinder the feature from standing tall and proud. Perhaps the most prevalent one that draws criticism towards the film is in the actual story of the narrative. What do I mean? Well, for better or worse, the story that’s being told in the movie script, which was penned by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, is quite predictable and almost formulaic to the touch. In a nutshell, the story in Black Adam is half-baked and feels very much so lacking in a proper narrative construction in the movie. Everything about the movie from its world-building, characters (and their development), action, visuals, and superhero nuances, feel somewhat half-done, but were never properly executed quite the right way during the film’s production. Subplots are fragmented, plot holes are numerous, stuff that is presented becomes irrelevant to the plot (Eternimum), and characters are just badly written. Thus, Black Adam just comes across as mundane superhero blockbuster endeavor that only has a shell of the story to help propel Johnson in the titular antihero character.
In addition, the movie heavily uses the classic exposition sequences to quickly catch us (the viewers) up on what is going on in the movie’s world. Yet, the usage of such lengthy expositional moments can be exhausting, especially in the beginning portion of a film of which Black Adam does. Yes, it was interesting, but just very exhausting and tiresome to actually get to the feature’s “meat and potatoes” of the story. And let’s not forget that the cheesy and cringeworthy dialogue throughout the movie. I kind of figured that this was going to be the case, especially with many of the dialogue that was featured in the movie, but what was presented definitely felt quite cheesy at times. That’s not to say every single dialogue line utter was bad or terrible, but there were more than what I was expecting. This really plays upon some of the film’s more comedic and dramatic scenes, with some of the jokes and gags (dialogue driven) were tonally off and not that funny (at all) and some of the more “heavy-hitting” ones (monologues or character-built moments) felt clunky and wooden.
Another big problem is how recycled the movie is (both in superhero movie category as well as in its own aesthetics). How so? Well, from the superhero movie standpoint, Black Adams feel very much so a dated endeavor, with a lot of familiar beats being played out in the classic origin tale for comic book characters. Yes, I do understand that superhero movies are still “all the rage” and origin feature films are still quite commonplace and heavily utilized those plot points as way and means to introduce a particular super. That being said, Black Adam presents those familiar beats, but never really interjects a more modern style into the mix or (for that matter) anything really creative. What’s presented has been done before and on better storytelling platforms, with the movie feeling quite dated, especially since superhero movies have evolved into the more “golden age”. Of course, superhero endeavors have a proven formula to work with, yet they still incorporate a bit more elaborate flair within its creation (be it story, characters, dramatics, etc.). Black Adam felt like it was produced during the mid-2000s…. back when superhero movies were still trying their footing prior to the release of something like 2008’s Iron Man or The Dark Knight. I know that we (as viewers) have been a little bit spoiled in our comic book superhero movies, but Black Adam doesn’t really stand tall and proud in comparison to other releases in this modern cinematic landscape.
As for its own aesthetics, Black Adam feels recycled in a lot of its various fight sequences, with Collett-Sera staging some numbing effects within some of the story beats. How so? Well, seeing Teth-Adam fight (and easily defeat) a horde of unnamed Intergang enforcers for the first time was pretty cool and then maybe the second time still had that effect, but seeing it happen again and again in a variety of recycled motions…. that becomes a bit monotonous and mind-numbing to watch. The same be said with the Justice Society involvement in the film, who enter the feature with the intent of stopping Teth-Adam. The first time was cool, but seeing it happen again and again become just tiresome and mind-numbing. Thus, the utter repetitive nature of the movie becomes a bore and one can easily see the lack of substance that the script doesn’t have for the narrative as well as Collet-Sera who doesn’t know how to make an impactful and entertaining superhero blockbuster. Also, I do have to stress the over usage of “slow-motion” film technique and how it truly becomes annoying. Yes, this particular technique isn’t new or revolutionary as it’s been done many times over for dramatic effects in movies, but Black Adam uses it so much that it becomes tiresome to watch almost every scene that uses “slow-motion”. This also brings up the cinematography by Lawrence Sher, who goes a little bit Zack Snyder’s 300 mantra with Black Adam….and doesn’t connect well with it. This also doesn’t make the film’s CGI visual effect shoots, which are a combination of good to mediocre, with a few glaring noticeable of bad green-screen effects or computer-generated constructs that are a little bit shoddy in their integration presentation.
Of course, a director must walk a “fine line” with superhero movies…. give too little and it becomes not enough excitement and give too much, and it becomes all-action with no substance. Sadly, Black Adam leans more heavily towards the latter, with bloated action that, while cool and visual interesting, never really challenge the status quo of either superhero movies or blockbuster pictures. This is perhaps the most apparent during the third act, with the feature reaching the climactic battle that becomes way too CGI heavy-driven that it starts to feel like a cutscene from a video game. Some elements definitely work in this particular portion of the movie, yet it still feels very hollow and doesn’t reach the same type of impact as what was intended. The final result of it makes the Black Adam’s ending feel redundant and far-less interesting than other DCEU endeavors (almost something on-par with 2016’s Suicide Squad), with lack of heart and emotion.
The cast in Black Adam is a mixture of good and bad, with several recognizable acting talents attached to this superhero blockbuster, yet most of the character themselves come off as a bit of cliché or just simple underdeveloped in the film, which renders them very much generic. Perhaps the strongest (literally) and most memorable character in the entire picture is the main person who is headlining Black Adam. Yes, I am talking about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the antihero protagonist role of Teth-Adam. Johnson, who is known for his roles in Moana, Central Intelligence, and Jungle Cruise, has certainly been around the movie industry for quite some time and has made a name for himself as a “larger-than-life” actor and always playing such “larger-than-life” characters in various action and / or comedy movies. One could call it “type casting”, but Johnson is always up to the task and is always good at delivering his dialogue lines…. even though some are silly. Thus, it comes at no surprise that Johnson is a perfect fit for such a powerhouse superhero character like Teth-Adam. Basically, Black Adam is a vehicle for Johnson, and it clearly shows that whenever he’s on-screen. As mentioned earlier, Johnson has wanted to be a part of this project for quite some time, so one can easily see that he’s enjoying the time on this movie. Physically…. he looks the part as Johnson’s bulky physique definitely helping make the character intimidating with his various superhero powers. He’s having a blast playing Adam and he’s definitely fun to watch.
Of course, the limitation of the character is quite noticeable, especially since he’s quite stoic and stonewalled towards many situations and characters he interacts with it. It’s what the script calls for and it becomes a bit stale as the feature progresses. Thus, the “humanity” portion of Teth-Adam could’ve been better handled, which makes Johnson, who is always good delivering those big, bravado moments, come off as a bit weaker than intended. Still, what’s presented works and one can easily tell that Johnson is having fun in such a superhero role. In short, whether you love the movie or not, there is no denying the fact that Johnson is the main star and attraction for Black Adam and perfect encapsulates the role to a fault. Let’s hope that he returns for future DCEU projects. Would love to see him go up against the likes of Cavill’s Superman, or Gadot’s Wonder Woman, or even Levi’s Shazam.
Beyond Johnson, the rest of the superhero characters in Black Adam make up the members of the Justice Society, which is a mixture of good to mediocre, especially with (as mentioned above) the movie introducing these character rather quickly with little to no backstory setup to speak of. Perhaps who the most memorable one (of the group) is the character of Kent Nelson / Dr. Fate, a superhero who uses sorcery and mystical powers from a magical helmet as well as seeing glimpses of the future, who is played by actor Pierce Brosnan (GoldenEye and The Thomas Crown Affair). From a visual standpoint, Dr. Fate seems like a very fascinating superhero, with some incredible mystical powers. Plus, it is quite fun to see Brosnan jump into the superhero foray and can easily outshine all the acting talents involved in the picture, including Johnson. Thus, it was delight to see him in such a role and acts “veteran” actor in Black Adam. That being said, the character of Dr. Fate is eerily similar to Dr. Stephen Strange / Doctor Strange from the MCU, including a mystery backstory into the mystic arts, using fractal imagery when using their powers, doppelganger spell to create multiple copies, and catching glimpse of future events. When you compare the two, it’s quite similar and Dr. Fate, who is introduced in this movie, doesn’t have enough backstory to carry the character enough, which is quite disappointing. Heck, I would’ve love to see (and still hope) for a Dr. Fate movie with Brosnan returning to play the character.
After Brosnan’s Dr. Fate, the next JS character is Carter Hall / Hawkman, the winged leader of JS, who is played by actor Aldis Hodge (Brian Banks and TURN: Washington’s Spies). Hawkman gets plenty of screen-time and Hodge is up to the task of making the most of his time in Black Adam as the more noble and righteous superhero…. almost like a bit of the opposite to Johnson’s Teth-Adam. Plus, it’s nice to see the character of Hawkman appear in a live-action DCEU feature film. However, he mostly ends up being just a “punching bag” for Johnson to abuse in almost every scene in the first half of the movie. He gets a bit of redemption and understanding in the latter half, but that’s when Black Adam starts to become a bit numb, which makes Hodge’s Hawkman rather straightforward and fades into the background.
Sadly, the other two JS characters (Maxine Hunkel / Cyclone and Albert “Al” Rothstein / Atom Smasher), who are played by actress Quintessa Swindell (Trinkets and In Treatment) and actor Noah Centineo (The Perfect Date and The Recruit), are woefully underdeveloped in the movie and basically should’ve been written out of it completely. From a visual standpoint, both character get enough representation, with Cyclone’s wind powers are captured with dramatic flair and Atom Smasher growth / size difference played with amusing laughs. Yet, their character themselves are just nonexistent and are just along for the ride in Black Adam. Heck, Cyclone isn’t given anything to make her personality standout, while Atom Smasher adds a few moments of comic relief, but it’s a bit “hit or miss”. Thus, it’s sad that Swindell and Centineo don’t get much material to play around with.
Unfortunately, the rest of the non-superhero characters in the movie fare actual worst and end up being quite “cookie cutter” caricatures that are incredibly one-dimensional. As stated, I do appreciate the Middle Eastern acting talent is being represented in movie as the various characters, but that still can’t hide the fact that these characters are poorly written and just mediocrely played on-screen. This is perhaps best one of the group would be the character of Adrianna Tomaz, an archaeologist of Kahndaq who is looking for the Crown of Sabbac and aides Teth-Adam throughout the movie, who is played by actress Sarah Shahl (Alias and Fairly Legal). The character has some interesting moments in the film and definitely is presented as the strong female archetype of which Shahl does sell. However, that still doesn’t make the character memorable and slowly becomes quite “cookie cutter” as the narrative progresses forward in the picture; making Adriana just as vanilla as when she was first introduced.
Who actually fares the worst (in my opinion) is the character of Amon Tomaz, Adrianna son who is looking to make Teth-Adam to be the hero that the people of Kahndaq need, who is played by actor Bodhi Sabongui (A Million Little Things and The Main Event). Why does is he fare the worst? Well, because he’s generic as they come in the movie. He’s annoying super hyper-active kid that befriends the hero and leads him down the right way (or at least tries to). It’s quite a cliched character and, while Sabongui has the right amount of energy for such a character, the character himself is so bland and straightforward and only acts like plot device to help propel events forward. Thus, the character of Amon is superfluous and downright generic as they come. The same can be said for side supporting character of Karim Tomaz, Adrianna’s brother, who is played by actor Mohammed Amer (Mo and Ramy). His character is supposed to be the sidekick character (of sorts) and has a lot of comedic dialogue lines, but the actual comedy of it all and how it is delivered is rather flat and boring; making the character of Karim rather dull and unmemorable…..even though the script tries to make him a memorable one.
Probably even faring worst than all of them is the actual main antagonist of the feature in the character of Ishmael Greggor, a colleague of Adriana who is looking for the Crown of Sabbac for his own ambitions, who is played by actor Marwan Kenzari (Aladdin and The Old Guard). Sadly, the movie makes this character villain so bland, generic, and straightforward that it comes off as just a terrible cliché. It’s sad because I’ve seeing several of Kenzari’s other work and he actually does a good job in his acting talents, which makes it even worse to seem him reduce to such tasteless baddie that’s generic as they come. Plus, the movie immediately plants him as the villain, despite the script and the direction of the film trying to hide that fact, which makes completely redundant. In the end, Kenzari’s Ishmael is just another cliched villain with a lame backstory and an even lamer character presence in the movie.
Additionally, there are also a few cameo-like appearance from previous DCEU films, including actor Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator and Blood Diamond) as the wizard Shazam, actress Viola Davis (The Woman King and Fences) as Amanda Waller, and actress Jennifer Holland (Peacemaker and Brightburn) as Email Harcourt. Again, most of these cameo appearances are merely minor, but certainly build in that continuity feeling that Black Adam is a part of the larger DCEU universe.
Lastly, the movie does have and Easter Egg scene during the credits portion of the film (aka the mid-credit point). It’s perhaps probably my favorite part of the movie. Of course, I won’t spoil it for my readers out there, but I was imagine another character to appear rather than the one that Black Adam interacts with briefly. Although, who he actually interacts with was great and got me a little excited to what future installments might occur in the DCEU.
You have two choices: you can either be the destroyer of this world, or you can be its savior. It’s up to you!” a question poise to the Teth-Adam, who has awakened from his slumberous prison and must learn to help save the people of Kahndaq or act as its destroyer in the movie Black Adam. Director Jaume Collet-Sera’s latest film tackles the great and powerful antihero character of the DC Comics lineup; presenting an origin tale that acts as introduction to the titular character in the DCEU. Unfortunately, despite the barrage of action scenes, a few storytelling elements, and some likeable performances (most notably in Johnson and Brosnan), the rest of the movie ends up being a haphazard mess of the superhero endeavor, especially from the lack of narrative substance, a messy (and dated) plot, recycled ideas, over usage of technical effects, a few rushed visuals, a bland antagonist, generic ending battle, and unmemorable characters. Personally, I was disappointed with this movie, especially since this particular superhero film was heavily promoted as the anticipated film in the DCEU. It certainly had its moments here and there and I did like Johnson in the lead role, but the rest is just a total misfire, which is incredibly sad. And even worse…. I would probably put this as my least favorite DCEU at the moment….and that’s including 2016’s Suicide Squad. I really wanted to like this movie, but I just couldn’t find the joy or spectacle in it. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is solid “skip it”, for there might be some interest of viewers watching it, but it’s best not to or just simply wait for it to come to streaming / TV. The film’s ending hints at the further involvement of Johnson’s Black Adam being part of the future DCEU, which I do welcome, but hope that it is an improvement on this particular film. In the end, Black Adam is a sluggish, recycled, and outdated superhero that doesn’t really amount to much beyond Johnson’s Adam being introduced into the larger cinematic universe of DC heroes and villains. In short, the movie is all Johnson and no substance!
2.3 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: October 21st, 2022
Reviewed On: October 25th, 2022
Black Adam is 124 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, intense action, and some language