“Black Adam” – Hit puree!
As of November 1, 2022, James Gunn and Peter Safran will take the reins of DC Studios (formerly DC Films). And not a moment too soon. The DCEU is widely considered a disaster and currently exists as the punchline on Marvel Studio’s doormat. Including Black Adam, there are twelve movies in the DCEU. Just six of them have a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (60% or better) and I’d argue three of those are mistakes caused by critics accidentally hitting the wrong button. Conversely, of the twenty-nine MCU movies, twelve of them are rated at least 90% fresh and just one (1!!) is rated rotten. Given that data, it makes sense that Warner Brothers would hand control of the DCEU to Gunn, the director of Guardians of the Galaxy (all three) who also made the best DCEU movie to date (The Suicide Squad).
Unfortunately, Gunn arrives too late to save Black Adam – the latest DCEU entry to make you wonder if the Warner Brothers were traumatized as children by comic books. I picture Warner Father using a rolled-up Justice League book to smack young Warner Son in the back of the head every time Warner Son failed to finish eating his peas. Incidentally, watching Black Adam was like getting hit in the face by that same comic book.
(SPOILER ALERT – You will sit there until that plate is clean, young man!)
Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is not a hero. This will be made abundantly clear by Adam constantly telling everyone he is not a hero and proving it by murdering anyone he deems a threat and destroying everything around him. Also, that’s the, er…plot. When I asked my ten-year-old son what he thought of the movie after watching it, he said “meh. It didn’t really have a plot.” I am so proud. My son also said he got tired during the movie – an impressive feat considering we attended a noon showing and the volume and visuals of the film were set to blender-filled-with-rocks-and-knives. Also, that’s the, er…plot.
I wish I were exaggerating. Present-day Kahndaq is being oppressed and exploited by Intergang for a magical resource called Eternium. Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) is searching for the mythical Crown of Sabbac in order to find it and destroy it before Intergang finds it (the crown is some kind of demon power conduit). Find it she does, but Intergang soldiers surround her moments after she finds it. While attempting to escape, she reads an incantation on the floor that summons Teth (Black) Adam, who has been gone since vanquishing an evil king five thousand years ago. Adam kills all the Intergang men, Adrianna escapes with the crown, and the movie still has ninety-five minutes left.
Adrianna would have us believe the movie is about freeing Kahndaq from Intergang, but if she wanted to do that, she could just put the crown on and do it herself, especially since Adam doesn’t care about Kahndaq. In reality, the movie is really about Rock smash! and Warner Brothers throwing more new superheroes at a wall to see what sticks. Nick-Fury-knock-off Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sends in Justice-League-knock-off the Justice Society of America (JSA) to capture Adam because he’s not a hero. When Adam refuses to be arrested, they all fight. And fight. And keep fighting for much of the remaining runtime, which is somewhere around fourteen hours. Then, fight some more. And who are these heroes who aren’t immediately murdered by a guy who is essentially Thor if he read the Necronomicon?
The JSA looks like Storm borrowed the X-Jet to help the Avengers junior varsity team. Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) is Falcon, but with a Roman-gladiator-themed wings and similar costume. Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) is Ant-Man stuck on supersize. Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) is Vision with a pinch of Dr. Strange unless he’s Dr. Strange with a pinch of Vision. Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) is Storm wearing her green summer outfit. Even the casting plagiarizes Marvel. Hawkman is surly and way too serious, Atom Smasher is boyish and quippy, Dr. Fate is a British gentleman, and the jet, yes, the jet, is a stylized Blackbird with downward-tipped wings. If DC is going to plagiarize Marvel, the least they could do is plagiarize a plot. Literally any plot would do. What about that crown thingy?
The main problem with the film is it wants us to believe Adam is at least a possible villain, if not straight-up villain, but the movie doesn’t believe it itself, let alone try to convince the audience. For one thing, he’s Dwayne Johnson, but he doesn’t get to behave like Dwayne Johnson. No smirking, no wisecracking, just scowling and punching. The film even tries to emulate Terminator 2 by having Adrianna’s son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) insist ad-nauseum that Adam needs a catch phrase and that killing his bad.
For another thing, we only see Adam kill bad guys and even see him saving people. I can’t stress enough that Adam could have easily killed the entire JSA except Dr. Fate, but Adam doesn’t because then the movie would have to call in actual superheroes and they’re saving that for the sequel. The flashbacks that reveal Adam’s true backstory don’t work because they keep referring to him as The Champion. Even the people of modern Kahndaq don’t turn on him, blindly cheering on this random supe they’ve never met, even as he destroys ever more of their city while battling team rando, followed by ever more destruction of their city battling a generic villain tossed in because they remembered the crown/Intergang subplot at the last minute.
Of all the characters thrown into this mess, Dr. Fate is the only one that stuck to the wall. He’s the only character that appears to have a brain, actively trying to think situations through rather than just BLAMPF-ing and HIYAHH-ing at everything like the rest of his team (that includes Cyclone, the girl with the 160 IQ we’re told). He has the coolest outfit of anyone on screen. There are enough hints at a really intriguing backstory that are far more interesting than anything else in the movie. Plus, he’s Pierce Brosnan. What’s not to like?
Sadly, Brosnan isn’t even close enough to save this train wreck. Even if we turn off our brains at the missing plot and one-dimensional characters, our brains cannot ignore the tornado of visuals that include so many slow-motion takes and so much grit that you’ll wonder if Jaume Collet-Serra (director) is an anagram for Zack Snyder. On top of that, your brain will also wonder what idiot wrote a mid-credits scene that completely negates the teensy bit of character growth Adam went through. Even sadder is that Johnson spent the better part of ten years to get this self-professed passion project made and thinks it came out exactly right. Somebody please hand me that rolled up Justice League book.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back and for someone to turn off the blender.