Black Adam

Review by Will Butler

Early in Black Adam (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2022), a character attempts to persuade the almighty yet disinterested Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) to embrace superhero stardom by declaring that “the superhero industrial complex is worth a lot of money.” While it’s ultimately a harmless self-aware joke, in Black Adam — a passionless project that frames itself as a new brand of a superhero film but falls even flatter than many before it — it’s difficult to read it as anything but a Freudian slip, an accidental reveal of the only motivational mantra guiding the film’s development.

Teth-Adam is an unstoppable force who refuses to play by the rules of being a hero. Before being granted his powers, he lived as a slave in the ancient North-African city of Kahndaq. It’s a background rich with potential depth, but Johnson plays him without care; he seems more interested in reinforcing his own “Rock” persona than putting the effort of a new performance in. His typically intrinsic charisma is absent in Black Adam — the barrage of menacing one-liners and trademark eyebrow raises immediately feel old. 

When Teth-Adam re-emerges from ancient banishment, he gets the attention of the Justice Society of America, a team of B-listers led by the flying hero known as Hawkman (Aldis Hodge). Their presence is where the film allows itself to be fun — the dynamic between Atom-Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) is admittedly charming, and Pierce Brosnan delivers the best performance of the film as Dr. Fate, the ageing and sentimental sorcerer. 

But because Black Adam’s third act is driven by a listless attempt at a twist villain, the Justice Society presents the central conflict for Teth-Adam — and it’s a flimsy one. The team’s philosophy that “there are only heroes or villains” has fascinating potential, but the film fails to foster any true investment in its abstract distinctions between “justice” and “revenge.” It makes the assumption that the audience will actually be conflicted about Teth-Adam taking revenge on his enslavers and zapping nameless neo-colonialists, which saps both the fun out of the killing sprees and the depth out of the ideas.

The rest of the film only continues to disappoint. While it tries to be an edgier response to the good-boy heroes all too familiar to us, the uncompelling civilian characters, slow-motion action messes, and predictable plot turns only make for a dull, familiar product. Black Adam, at best, is the cobbled framework of an unimaginative superhero film — one that, considered alongside Johnson’s performance, often feels like a front for nothing more than an exercise in ego.

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