Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Mohammed Ammer, Bodhi Sabongui, Pierce Brosnan
Run Time: 125 mins
Black Adam is the latest in the DC Extended Universe and with Dwayne Johnson attached to play the titular character since September 2014, it’s taken quite some time to reach the big screen. The film was delayed for a number of reasons – Johnson was originally to star in a film opposite Shazam as his nemesis but DC decided to let Shazam have his own film first and then introduce Black Adam. The production was also not helped by the coronavirus pandemic and DC’s own inner turmoils surrounding their film slate.
In the director’s chair is Jaume Collet-Serra, responsible for a cluster of Liam Neeson action vehicles and last year’s reasonably fun-in-the-moment yet utterly disposable Jungle Cruise.
Black Adam opens with the titular character’s origin in 2600 BC before jumping ahead to the present day where he is awoken via a spoken incantation. The character was believed to have been the rescuer of the fictional country Kahndaq, which is now being oppressed by Intergang, an organised crime syndicate. University professor and resistance fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) and her teenage son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) function as the audience’s insight to the country.
The film also introduces the Justice Society team, consisting of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Ant-Man rip-off Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) to take Black Adam into custody, as they believe him to be a societal menace. They are sent into action by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who was last seen managing The Suicide Squad, who has somehow been shoehorned into managing this team.
Black Adam is a mixed bag and is generally pretty mindless and disposable, albeit reasonably entertaining. Despite a two hour run time, the film never takes the time to breathe and focus on developing its character, instead choosing to prioritise action sequence after action sequence. By the end of the a climactic battle towards the end of the film’s second act, it’s pretty derivative superhero fare but the third act somewhat reframes the first two acts in a more interesting light.
Crucially, Johnson’s great in the titular role and it will be exciting to see his anti-hero come face-to-face with other DCEU characters in the future. Of the other performances, both Shahi and Sabongui make for solid reference points to Kahndaq, and Mohammed Amer gets some rousing lines as Amon’s Uncle.
The Justice Society are particularly problematic, saddled with poor dialogue and cliche-ridden. An eye-openly poor opening sees them convene after receiving orders from Waller to locate Black Adam and the manner in which they leave Doctor Fate’s mansion on a fighter jet is lifted straight from X-Men. Hodge puts in a good effort as Hawkman, both Centineo and Swindell fail to leave an impression and Brosnan is just here to pick up the cheque.
The visual effects are often ropey, considering its sizeable $200 million budget and the film is far too reliant on CGI. Despite sterling work on Joker, Lawrence Sher’s cinematography is also disappointing, resorting to quick cuts. Lorne Balfe’s score is certainly loud but not particularly memorable.
Collet-Serra’s direction is rather anonymous but the hallmarks of a more adult-oriented film are evident. Prior to the film’s release, the studio were required to make cuts to achieve a 12A / PG-13 rating – arguably, a 15 / R rating is just what the film needs to elevate it.
There’s also a mind-boggling reference to Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in which Collet-Serra contrasts a Mexican standoff with Black Adam’s superhero ability, which is unforgivable.
Black Adam isn’t the DCEU’s crowning achievement and it’s a shame it rarely strays from superhero convention. At least it takes a handful of narrative risks in its third act that make it worthwhile and whilst there are inklings of a more genre-progressive film, the framing of the titular character as an anti-hero is an inspired creative choice. Still, Black Adam functions in setting the foundations of the character with Johnson is clearly game in the role and the film is entertaining, even if you’ll forget it shortly after the credits start to roll.