After years of development and anticipation, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has finally delivered a take on DC’s Black Adam that goes all-out on spectacle as promised. The latest entry in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is a total cinematic blast, and is certainly the franchise’s largest action film yet. Those who have been waiting for this adaptation long since Johnson first expressed interest back in 2007 will not walk away disappointed.
Black Adam kicks off in ancient Kahndaq as we are introduced to the legend of the so-called hero and savior of its oppressed people, Teth-Adam. Cut to the present and Kahndaq is now overrun and occupied by Intergang, a hostile legion of mercenaries who exploit the country’s resources as its first tyrants did centuries ago. Locals have to face constant abuse at the hands of Intergang, until one local fugitive/explorer, Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), discovers a way to fight back by finding the legendary crown of Sabbac – a source of unlimited magic power.
But in the race to get the crown of Sabbac, Adrianna accidentally awakens the man himself, Teth-Adam. Mayhem ensues as the ancient savior discovers what’s left of his homeland. The modern-day Kahndaq citizens are in desperate need of a hero, as the rest of the world has all but abandoned them. However, Teth-Adam has his own nefarious ways of fighting crime, gaining the attention of the Justice Society. In the conflict of how to once again liberate Kahndaq, Teth-Adam finds himself needing to update his image and status, leading him to become the version of Black Adam fans know and love.
The film begins on a weak note as it goes full exposition mode, explaining the ins and outs of Kahndaq’s past. These early lessons show some vital moments in the country’s history that are later revisited in a much different context. It goes without saying that some of this heavy exposition is needed due to the country’s rich history and the extensive lore of Black Adam himself. And when it’s touched upon again later in the film, it makes for effective drama. Yet, director Jaume Collet-Serra’s starting execution is still overlong and clunky.
The first act of Black Adam doesn’t improve much as it introduces the main civilian leads, Adrianna and her small family of would-be liberators. The dialogue here is shaky at best, which connects to one of the greater problems of the film: the screenplay is so action-orientated that it almost completely leaves out the necessary room for characters to breathe. Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher and Quintessa Swindell’s Cyclone are the primary victims of this, these new JSA recruits barely become acquainted and get to bond outside of a few cool action beats. This is already half of the JSA feeling underutilized.
Despite the screenplay not being top-notch, a few great character-to-character scenes slide through the cracks. This occurs as Black Adam and the Justice Society get more time to interact, it’s here that the film is at its peak. Dwayne Johnson is a fantastic Black Adam, his sheer love for the character radiate from the screen. For being reportedly the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, Black Adam is already one of his most defining roles to date. Johnson keeps up his enchanting screen presence as he lands old-fashioned one-liners and brutal action all with complete passion.
Aldis Hodge and Pierce Brosnan’s portrayals of Hawkman and Doctor Fate are both equally brilliant; the two make for superb sparring partners against Johnson. Brosnan is unequivocally the calling card of Black Adam, though, as he gets the second most impactful arc in the entire film, right behind Johnson. Once again, Noah Centineo doesn’t have much to chew on, yet his Atom Smasher still gets the job done as good comic relief. Likewise, Quintessa Swindell has a few memorable bits but is far more deserving of screen time. These two could definitely go far if DC plans to feature the JSA in more films down the line.
Jaume Collet-Serra’s impressive eye for spectacle rises above his spotty build-up in the first act. Everything in Black Adam feels exciting and huge. This is largely down to Joker cinematographer Lawrence Sher, whose beautifully graded shots never comprise composition for action. Every fight sequence packs a punch, and the film gets extra creative when utilizing Doctor Fate’s powers. Doctor Fate’s magical abilities are as mind-bending as they rightfully should be immediately from the get-go. Also, Black Adam features plenty of slow-motion sequences that will take spectators back to Zack Snyder’s filmmaking style. It’s just a shame that the main villain isn’t stronger here because it does overshadow some of the bombastic action on display.
Ultimately, Black Adam is a thoroughly entertaining ride that makes for an awesome experience on the biggest screen one can find. The scale of the film is well worth it. What it sets up for the future of the DCEU is exciting and not to be overlooked. With Dwayne Johnson setting himself up as some kind of DCEU advisor, anything is possible when enough is at stake like it is in Black Adam. It looks like exciting times are ahead for DC fans. Even with Black Adam’s first outing having its flaws, the positives far outweigh the negatives, which is what, at the end of the day, truly matters.