Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Sets The DCEU On An Exciting Course In ‘Black Adam’ – Review
To say that there’s a lot of pressure on DC’s Black Adam would be an understatement. Although this project has been almost a decade in the making, at least officially since Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was cast back in 2014, the DC film franchise has possibly never been in desperate need of a hit. This statement feels wrong to say at first, given that the last two DC releases, The Suicide Squad and The Batman, are some of the best we’ve gotten from the brand in years. However, with the recent tragic cancellation of Batgirl and the ongoing restructuring of DC films at Warner Bros. Discovery under the questionable rule of David Zaslav, much faith needs to be restored across the industry and moviegoers, to say the least.
Well, Dwayne Johnson is here to shake up this hierarchy with Black Adam and does a pretty solid job at it. Let’s get this clear right off the bat, Black Adam isn’t some kind of new game-changer. In all honesty, it might just barely crack your top five films in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). It certainly isn’t near the bottom of the franchise at least. Perhaps more than any other recent DC film, Black Adam feels tailored for success on all levels…to the point where it feels like we’re almost going down a checklist. We’ve got it all, from (forced) comedic relief characters to a mix mash of needle drops to a CGI-heavy third act! Black Adam very much utilizes a typical blockbuster formula, but to its deserved credit, it does so in quite an entertaining way.
Falling in line with the DCEU, Black Adam borrows a lot from the New 52 comic origins of the character. Our story begins in ancient Kahndaq – a land inspired by Egypt that is found in the Middle East in DC lore – at the heels of a momentous uprising. The Wizard deemed the noble Teth Adam worthy thanks to his vigor and drive to free his people from slavery. Upon saying the word “Shazam,” he is bestowed great power and ensues in a fight of magic with his captors. He disappears after liberating Kahndaq, but this freedom only lasts for so long. Jump to the present, and the country is now under the occupation of outsiders. One local family of explorers will do whatever it takes to free Kahndaq, even if it means searching for Teth Adam. They need a hero but get something far more unpredictable instead.
Similar to James Wan’s Aquaman, the best aspect of Black Adam is how it doesn’t question any of its far-out concepts and characters. The film takes itself seriously but still knows how to have a good time and give fans what they came for. This can be seen best with the JSA, who give Black Adam a much-needed edge. Their inclusion in the plot fits naturally, sent to Kahndaq to keep Black Adam under control in the modern day, and even adds an extra layer of depth to the story’s themes of freedom and choice. The people of Kahndaq had to resort to old legends and magic to bring back their liberator. Meanwhile, the JSA thinks they can just barge right into their country as some kind of world police and establish “justice” even though they’ve never tried to help them in their oppression before.
The political and social themes explored through the JSA’s conflict with Black Adam himself may not be groundbreaking, yet it is welcoming to see them tackled head-on instead of being glossed over or ignored. For what it’s worth, Black Adam is actively trying to serve the comics and these characters their long overdue spotlight with great diligence. It’s the kind of blockbuster where you feel that kind of dedicated and lively energy reflected from everyone on-screen. The Rock knows you’ve waited a long time to see this movie, so there’s no wasting time. In this vein, it’s really refreshing to see a comic book movie with so many colorful characters immediately thrown into the mix without hesitation. It’s as if the film goes, “This is Doctor Fate, he can do magic. This is Cyclone, she controls air. Now, let’s get on with the show.”
Admittedly, these kind of quick introductions does leave most of the JSA feeling undercooked as a team altogether. It’s admirable to see Black Adam so eager to jump into the action instead of giving everyone a flashback sequence or something of the like to explain their powers, but it gets too uncanny when you keep getting origin stories thrown at you through snappy exposition. So much character information is said instead of shown that it’s easy to forget why characters like Hawkman are even dressed like a Hawk or do what they do to begin with. However, Black Adam is evidently more concerned about showing the cinematic potential of its cast rather than giving everyone fleshed-out arcs. To its slight detriment, it succeeds because the action seen in the film is some of the best of the DCEU, without question.
The high thrills of Black Adam can be attributed to director Jaume Collet-Serra, who has a repertoire of crafting jam-packed action sequences across his filmography. Serra’s sense of scope is what truly carries the film from start to finish. Not only is the action creative and imaginative with its staging and blocking, but it also looks visually stunning and feels as impactful as it rightfully should be. Even if the film isn’t really working for you, by the time Black Adam takes on the JSA all at once, there’s no way that you won’t have a big smile on your face. For as long as it took to make this movie, it’s clear that enough time and effort was put into its sheer entertainment value alone. You’ll never be bored watching Black Adam, that’s for sure. And unlike certain recent Marvel films, the CGI rarely takes dips in quality.
Black Adam may not be one of the DCEU’s best overall, but it successfully lays the groundwork for an exciting future. Everyone on board shows more than enough passion for the world, and there’s ideally nowhere else to go but up. What sets this film apart from many other comic book adaptations is that even with its downfalls, there’s a radiating sense of care and effort. You can’t say the filmmakers and cast didn’t put great amounts of heart into this project, which is much more than what is lazily churned out from most of these blockbusters. Black Adam sets the DCEU on a path full of potential, and the success of this first film will see how the current Warner Bros. Discovery regime decides to move forward. For now, fans will have to settle for this solid and heartfelt kickstarter.