It’s about time for Dwayne Johnson to carry the role of a superhero or in the case of Black Adam, an antihero, especially given his imposing height and chiselled physique. And one might be wondering why it took him so long to appear in a comic-book movie. As it turns out, Dwayne Johnson did try to get his longtime passion project off the ground for decades. 15 years, to be exact since 2007! But you got to hand it over to Johnson for being persistent to ensure that Black Adam will be coming to the big screen.
Back then, Get Smart director Peter Segal was originally attached to bringing Black Adam to life. Except it was not the solo movie like we have right here but more about introducing the antihero character and Shazam’s respective origin stories in a single movie. But thanks to Johnson, he insists on Black Adam being made separately and the rest, as they say, is history.
Still, I remain sceptical about seeing Black Adam in the hands of Jaume Collet-Serra, the journeyman director who frequently collaborated with Liam Neeson in mid-budget Hitchcockian thrillers like Unknown (2011) and Non-Stop (2014). Collet-Serra, of course, previously teamed up with Johnson in last year’s Jungle Cruise, which also marked the director’s first foray into the big-budget tentpole territory. The result? Not good and this is what worries me the most when he is given another huge budget (reportedly cost US$200 million to make) at his disposal.
The good news is, Black Adam gets off to a promising start with an extended 2,600 B.C.-set prologue detailing the people in the fictional Middle Eastern city of Kahndaq (as opposed to Egypt in the comics) suffering from oppression and being enslaved by the ruthless king. Black Adam — but he goes by the name of Teth-Adam in the movie — is the saviour here, who has his superpowers bestowed by the wizards. The same wizards led by Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who was also responsible for granting Billy Batson (Asher Angel) the similar power that would transform him into a superhero (Zachary Levi) in 2019’s Shazam!
Black Adam ends the tyrannical kingdom but later vanished under a certain circumstance for 5,000 years. Flash-forward to the present day of Kahndaq, Black Adam is subsequently awakened and summoned from his tomb and finds himself in the middle of political oppression ruled by the crime organisation known as the Intergang.
Long story short, it has something to do with a magic crown made of Eternium, which would unleash demonic powers. The Intergang is determined to get the crown by any means necessary and as the battle erupts between them and Black Adam, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis in a memorable cameo appearance) brings in the members of the Justice Society to restore order. The members in question include Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan).
The first and second acts benefit from Jaume Collet-Serra’s pacey direction that zips along with enough effects-laden action sequences to keep you occupied. The action itself is energetic and thankfully devoid of the annoying shaky cam. Collet-Serra also employs plenty of cool Zack Snyder-style slow-motion effects in some of the action setpieces and he does so without relying on them ad nauseam. Black Adam’s subsequent battle scene against the members of Justice Society is easily the highlight here, showcasing each of their respective superpowers. For instance, Doctor Fate has magical powers that allow him to multiply himself and others like telekinesis and force field projection.
Dwayne Johnson, in the meantime, is clearly born to play such a role in Black Adam. He’s more brooding than ever, given the nature of his antihero character but he’s hardly a gigantic bore. He may have been serious but he doesn’t forget to lighten up a little and thankfully (!) not too much with his spot-on deadpan humour. While Johnson steals the show here, the rest of the cast is adequate enough in their respective roles. This includes Sarah Shahi in her strong supporting turn as archaeologist and freedom fighter Adrianna as well as Aldis Hodge’s perfectly straight-arrow portrayal of the heroic Hawkman and Pierce Brosnan’s graceful performance as Doctor Fate.
Unfortunately, the movie eventually rears its ugly head with a protracted third act that grows increasingly tiresome. Not to forget, the erratic pacing that feels strangely anticlimactic (you’ll know it when you see it) and by the time the big bad arrives, it’s nothing more than a mere flashy visual-effect showcase. The big bad may have been powerful but the stakes are rather low, thanks to the overall weak antagonist known as Sabbac. Even before the third act, it’s hard to shake off that nagging feeling about the way Justice Society is being superficially introduced to the audiences.
Despite some promising moments and Dwayne Johnson’s scene-stealing turn in the title role, Black Adam ends up more as an uneven effort. Likewise, don’t leave your seats once the end credits start rolling. Stick around for a mid-credit teaser that is likely to get you excited about the otherwise shaky future prospects of DCEU.