Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Pierce Brosnan
Release dates: October 21, 2022 (United States)
Running time: 125 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $190–260 million
Box office: $393 million
IMDb Rating: 6.3/10 (265K)
While there are no glaring issues that would warrant avoiding "Black Adam," there's also not much that would entice viewers to rush out and see it. The film's flaws and virtues are both minor, but they all stem from one significant problem: its place within the DC cinematic universe. It's not worse than other big-budget superhero blockbusters that dominate the industry, but it does pack in all of the genre's and the business's negative habits into a single two-hour-plus film, with only occasional glimpses of the format's potential pleasures. "Black Adam" comes off as a placeholder for a future film, but its success can be attributed to the captivating performance of Dwayne Johnson, who is like a real-life superhero on screen.
The movie begins with an elaborate backstory set in 2600 B.C.E. in a fictional land called Kahndaq, where a tyrant named Ahk-Ton enslaves his subjects to mine for a mineral called Eternium, which he uses to forge a superpowered crown. However, one subject rebels and gains his own superheroic power that's activated by saying "Shazam!" In the ensuing battle, Ahk-Ton is killed, and his palace is destroyed. The film then fast-forwards to present-day Kahndaq, which is now controlled by a paramilitary crime organization called Intergang. A trio of rebels led by archeologist Adrianna and her son, Amon, search for the crown in hopes of aiding their resistance. When Intergang follows and attacks them in the ruins, Adrianna summons the hero of 2600 B.C.E., Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson), from his four-thousand-plus years in an underground tomb. He emerges and defeats the assailants.
In the movie, an immortal being named Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is freed from his tomb in present-day Kahndaq, where he proceeds to take down a group of criminals occupying the land. However, he is deemed a threat by American agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and is targeted by the Justice Society, a team of superheroes including Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). The team believes in due process and tries to convince Teth-Adam to stop his extrajudicial killings, but he is driven by his anger and his primitive sense of justice. Eventually, Teth-Adam recognizes the danger he poses and allows himself to be re-entombed. However, when an ancient enemy threatens Kahndaq, the Justice Society must seek Teth-Adam's help once again.
The movie "Black Adam" is markedly different from "Shazam!" in its treatment of the superhero genre. While the latter is a lighthearted and enjoyable comedy, the former is weighed down by its historical backstory and political implications, resulting in a lack of levity that the cast struggles to overcome. Viola Davis and Aldis Hodge deliver performances of impressive gravitas, while Pierce Brosnan's charm is largely wasted in a role that offers little substance. Quintessa Swindell and Noah Centineo's YA romance feels like a mere setup for a sequel, and Dwayne Johnson, despite his star power, is left with a rote and empty role.
The film's surface-level details, such as the training of catchphrases and introduction to sarcasm, stand out because the plot and characters lack substance. The movie lacks a strong point of view and falls short of offering a personal commitment or aesthetic attitude, as seen in the Russo brothers' Marvel epics. Director Jaume Collet-Serra proves to be a skilled coordinator, but his connection to the fantastic nature and outsized powers of superheroes is merely technical.
Superhero movies, as ultra-high-budget tentpole productions meant for international consumption, often suffer from a lack of imagination and a focus on production demands. This reduces the bottomless toy chest of CGI to a mere toolbox of cinematic bureaucracy, resulting in films that are morally deadening and aesthetically depressing. While a few exceptional superhero films, such as "Ant-Man," "Black Panther," and "Man of Steel," have managed to offer unique perspectives and possibilities, most fall short in this regard.