Director Jaume Collet-Serra showcases the morality of our favorite heroes while peeling back the sorrow-stricken pain of Black Adam, who has never been given his chance to shine until now. Most notably, the film works its best when every character is given a choice while traversing the gray confinement of good and evil.
“Black Adam” feels like the perfect blend and harmony of childhood Saturday cartoons while borrowing the chaotic insanity of “Dragon Ball Z,” with Zack Snyder-infused visuals, and “Mortal Kombat” violence that’s not afraid to up the maturity while also exploring the realistic appeal of “300.” It’s a non-stop thrill ride that holds no punches but leaves enough heart to be touched and raises the question of freedom vs. servitude and solitude.
Collet-Serra utilizes his vibrant imagination and prior chemistry from working alongside Johnson during “Jungle Cruise” to present a darker and more mature narrative to the audience. And it works, even though the prologue did feel exposition-heavy for a time. Seeing the realm and blossoming world of DC Comics come to life was a highlight. Most notably when witnessing the origins of Kahndaq, a location that not many know. The screenplay then magnifies how the nation was destroyed, pillaged, and subjected to broken ideals of enslavement.
The symbolism of oppression and the last plea to the gods begging for a “hero” takes center stage and molds the clay that the narrative will conform and be foundational around. The tragic nightmares of seeing a boy succumb to pain and torment from a shot heard around the alley, or a messiah sent from a doomed planet, aren’t written yet.
Instead, our broken truths, the hubris of our society and the constructive choices we attempt to conceal are on full display. “Black Adam” works as a premise and whole because the character isn’t trapped or plagued with the curse of his power. Instead, he’s a reminder of what occurs when humanity grows tired of the sins we express.
In addition to the nation of Khandaq taking the center, I admit it was refreshing to see a new region of the DC Universe. In this case, the Middle East was given a chance to be shown, and let Muslim culture get the spotlight it deserved. It could be interpreted as a subtle reminder that diversity matters and every culture deserves to see itself represented on the silver screen. I think about the modern-day landscape of Khandaq, and how the community was searching for a hero and symbol of direction. It felt positioned similarly to how Harlem embraced Miles Morales in the Insomniac PS5 game.
I feel the entire film is about the choice and the moral echo which resonates in our hearts. This claim is reinforced by Johnson’s performance along with an arc that unfolds in an unreliable narrator’s sense of direction but also rewards the audience with chaotic backlash and painful violence.
In terms of performances and casting, I admit Johnson’s portrayal and performance as the titular character surprised me, how calm and composed he came off. But the fluid action sequences also showcased the brutality of Black Adam. They positioned power levels equal in substance to Superman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Faora from “Man Of Steel.” For example, he speeds around, breaks people in half, is bulletproof, and has flight. In simple terms, he’s a one-person army, and we can’t forget his ability to shoot lightning, which is used quite often. I think Johnson was perfectly cast as the anti-hero, and I stand by my claim.
Other notable scene stealers and performances that stood out were Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman and Pierce Bronson’s Doctor Fate, who had great chemistry with the other Justice Society of America (JSA) members while establishing and building a foundation for possible creative avenues to cement the legacy of these icons.
As a comic book fan, seeing Hodge equipped with his patent Nth metal mace and his clash with Black Adam didn’t disappoint, with each landing blow after blow, it didn’t feel just like pure rage. Instead, the consequences of being outmatched were present. To the point of every fight allowed Black Adam to shed his pain while reacclimating his humanity, peeling away the stoic exterior and revealing the actual man who is the face after the word Shazam is uttered.
This version of Carter Hall is the leader of the Justice Society. Again another iconic DC Comics team that has never been given its moment to shine, and when they debuted, every member made their moment shine the brightest. From Pierce Bronson looking plucked from a new 52 installment of DC comics as Doctor Fate, and make no mistake, his power was on full display, and I hope DC or Warner considers branching out with HBO Max or solo film projects to flesh out these characters further.
Noah Centineo was a comedic relief as Atom Smasher and felt like he gave off energy compared to Tom Holland’s first appearance as Spider-Man in “Captain America: Civil War.” He looked great, and the signature costume popped well on screen, but as the film progressed, his role began to unfold. It just felt like the script was more centered on Bronson and Hodge’s respective arcs. Though I admit that Quintessa Swindell was great as Cyclone, their performance was also a highlight. The chemistry between Swindell and Centineo as younger heroes felt organic and ripe with potential if this franchise progresses. Also, the visual effects for Cyclone, and when the camera would blend into slo-mo, were surreal.
In the case of Adrianna, one of the side characters played by Sarah Shahi, it felt she was hiding a major secret that could be integral to the plot and building out the world as this chapter of the DCEU treads forward. I did enjoy Collet-Serra using her arc to question the humanity that sometimes gets lost within our heroes and wondering where the line between good and evil fades.
Also, a quick reminder, if you listen closely, the film expands the lore behind the Shazam films and gives further context that the first film left dangling for fans to decipher.
Another element of praise was how the visual effects sequences would blend or dip in and out of slo-mo to exhibit the Mortal Kombat Fatalities that helped rack up and fully display this film’s body count. I remember sitting in the theater wondering if I was witnessing a real-life version of “Injustice 2” or a classic fighter anime from how quickly a set piece would turn into a battle stage. The dialogue would then ensue similarly akin to a cut scene.
Of course, Black Adam does not hold back on the action and does draw inspiration from the visual prowess displayed in Zack Synder’s “Man Of Steel.” As the film progresses, the tone begins to descend a tad bit, but once the final act arrives, you don’t attempt to leave because it fires on all cylinders and doesn’t disappoint.
“Black Adam” is a step in the right direction, and it’s a great popcorn flick that harbors promise behind the guise of character study. DC and Warner Bros. are off to a strong start, and I want to see more. Now that the universe is forever changed, this film establishes there is no going back. Lorne Balfe needs to compose and score more films because his Black Adam theme is subtly perfect and feels symbolic of the film’s narrative while stretching the horizon of how the future of DC and Warner is thriving with potential.
“Black Adam” gets four stars.