BLACK ADAM: 2 ½ STARS. “fills void felt by DC fans who miss Zach Snyder-esque slo-mo.”
Black Adam, the titular character of the new Dwayne Johnson movie, walks like a superhero, but doesn’t talk like one. He has super speed, incredible physical strength, extraordinary stamina, unflinching courage and a skin-tight suit like goody-two-shoes Superman, but he’s also got an attitude. “My powers are not a gift,” the DC Comics character says, “but a curse. Born out of rage.”
The character’s origin story dates back thousands of years to ancient Kahndaq, a tyrannical kingdom where a power-hungry, despotic king has enslaved his people to mine a rare substance called Eternium that will help him attain God-like powers.
(POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD)
When one young worker fights back, his bravery is rewarded by the Council of Wizards, and before you can say the word “Shazam,” the child is imbued with mystical powers. When the youngster’s family is targeted for death, he makes the ultimate sacrifice and transfers his powers to his father Teth-Adam (Johnson). Stripped of his mystical energy, the boy is now human again, and is soon killed.
Filled with rage, Teth-Adam uses his powers to unleash demons, a crime that sees him imprisoned for 5000 years of dreamless sleep. “The world needed a hero,” he says. “Instead, it got me.”
(END OF SPOILER ZONE)
Awoken in modern day by university professor and resistance fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), he emerges as a vengeful entity with a twisted sense of integrity. “I was a slave until I died,” he says. “Then I was reborn a god. My son sacrificed his life to save me. Now, I kneel before no one.”
His old home of Kahndaq is now under military occupation by an organization called Intergang who set their sights on finding the ancient Eternium Crown of Sabbac at any cost. But with Teth-Adam back on the scene, that cost come with a huge, bloody price tag.
A larger-than-life justice machine, his violent curbing of Intergang soldiers brings him on a collision course with the Justice Society of America, Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and the winged Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), a group of superheroes who enforce global stability.
“Heroes don’t kill people,” says Hawkman. “Well,” says Teth-Adam, now renamed Black Adam, “I do.”
It’s about time Dwayne Johnson played a superhero, or mystical anti-hero, or whatever the heck Black Adam is supposed to be, right? A real-life, larger-than-life character, he physically fits the bill—no padding required in his tight spandex suit—and his heroic bona fides are well defined. He’s a natural, but here he’s saddled with a reluctant hero’s journey. His morose character works against the very traits that have made The Rock beloved. He’s all pumped up, that is for sure, but the charisma that usually flows so effortlessly out of him has narrowed to a trickle. Even though he is omni-powerful, Black Adam, the character, is about as interesting as a glass of tepid water. It’ll quench your thirst, but isn’t all that fun.
It doesn’t help that Johnson is surrounded by Dollar Store versions of more established superheroes. The Justice Society of America are generic brand world-savers, but do add a bit of zip to the proceedings, even if they put you in the mind of Dr. Strange, Storm, Ant-Man and Falcon while doing so.
“Black Adam” is one big kaboom. The plentiful action scenes are CGI orgies, large-scale land and air battles meant to distract from the clunky, exposition heavy story. As an origin story there are lots of moving parts as we get to know Teth-Adam and Justice Society members. Layer in historical perspective and a theme of freedom over tyranny and you have a movie that feels, simultaneously, over-stuffed and yet, because nothing is explored in any depth, undercooked.
I’m sure “Black Adam” will be the beginning of a new franchise for Johnson, and it should fill the hole felt by DC fans aching for more Zach Snyder-esque slo-mo (even though the film was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra) but I found the cluttered, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” story more forgettable than fun.