After decades of struggling between a realistic setting with films like Christopher Nolan’s the Dark knight trilogy, “Watchmen,” Zack Snyder’s Superman trilogy, Matt Reeves’ Batman universe, Todd Phillips’ “Joker” and Marvel formulated camps like “Aquaman,” Alan Smithe’s “Suicide Squad” and R rated flicks like “Birds of Prey” and “The Suicide Squad,” DC has finally shifted it’s path and ushered towards a new era of fictional universe with the first film of phase 1 — “Black Adam.”
This is a spoiler-filled review
Starting off with the positives, this film possibly gave us one of the best suits in comic book media history. With this, I refer to Dwayne Johnson’s suit for “Black Adam.” The design seems to be unmatched with the inscriptions and no paddings. Rock sets a new standard for comic book media with this and shows how amazing wonders a padding free suit can do.
While he suits up with the lightning we see the uniform morphing around his body, which feels natural considering that every muscle we see with the suit are purely a result of Dwayne Johnson’s rigorous workouts. Something the comic book genre needs to focus on more. This also sets a good example on the importance of exercise.
Lorne Balfe’s score for the film is amazing! I love how the themes for the characters seem to be derived out of the main theme for the Justice Society of America (JSA). This is the second time a team up film in DC has felt such a derivation in score, with the first one being Tom Holkenberg’s score for “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” I find Balfe’s score to be a great addition to the DC Universe Soundtracks.
The cinematography of this film by Lawrence Sher is very aesthetically pleasing. Depth of field was right on point and the film felt in place. Usually, due to excessive green screening and inexperienced crews, we usually find big Hollywood blockbusters in the shackles of recognizable CGI and bad cover ups. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” can prove to be an amazing example here. Every scene felt like it was shot on a stage while Doctor Strange in the mirror dimension or the Statue of Liberty felt purely in front of a green screen with improper depth of field. Luckily, “Black Adam” suffers from neither of those. It has beautiful cinematography with amazing VFX. I really loved how they showed Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher grow to an amazing height so organically while running. At least that separated him from Ant-Man.
Now, coming to the script, I wonder if they really had one. The story and the dialogue felt so out of place and non-existent that even thinking about them the slightest makes you realize what a story really needs after putting those five letters together (s,t,o,r,y.).
There is zero motivation in any of the characters as to what they do and why they do it, and everyone feels like a non playable character due to their behavioral patterns. The film somehow shows a confusing and controllable JSA that never interferes in Khandaq affairs, even after all the issues there. But once they see a champion killing off tyrannical members who enslave the people of Khandaq, somehow decide that black Adam is a bad guy.
More so, Teth literally tells them that he was a slave all his life and the next thing they do is order him to surrender and go back to a prison. And then they expect him to cooperate.
Hawkman’s a bore in the comics and in this film as well, at least they got that right! He seems to have a very strong understanding of what heroes do which we sense with the screenplay that feels like it was written by a five year old. It’s not wrong to have morals but if you give the bad guy the satisfaction of having one, they’ll never fear you. This is exactly the reason why Batman works as a character and Hawkman here simply feels like an annoyance.
The film’s theme is so two dimensional that people never feel real at all. A dude who’s just flying around destroying property and killing people seems to be a symbol of hope, as if that’s the only faction that exists. This feels like 1978 all over again. It really takes the intensity of war out of a kid’s mind. Imagine standing in front of your house that was destroyed due to all the fights and there’s no sense of sadness for that. Rather, people are just in a state of hallelujah. Yes, I understand they’ve been freed after a long time, but human beings have an ability to feel emotions that are more than cheerleading.
Bodhi Sabongui’s Amon Tomaz is an irritable addition to the story. Every scene with him on screen is simply cringe worthy. I understand the child’s point of view but if they’re ripping off Shazam’s tone, at least make it interesting. Freddy was a nerd too but he wasn’t a bore, and his heroic speech at the end by Amon gave me the vibe of the scene from “Shazam!” where Billy yells at Dr. Sivana from far away that he can barely hear anything. Everything about his character felt forced and stupid.
Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher and Quintessa Swindell’s Cyclone feel as if they were added on at the last minute after everything was filmed because they have no real role in the film at all. They really could’ve had some kind of a meaningful arc but they’re just there. Beautiful but useless.
Pierce Brosnan’s Dr.Fate is an irrelevant addition to the film and the only purpose of the heroes here is to exist as a plot device for Black Adam to fight. Though, the illusion scene where Fate shows Adam the old Khandaq was better constructed than Thanos showing Doctor Strange his world before destruction in “Avengers: Infinity War.” It felt like everything was simply green screen behind a stage with heavy CGI while here, he felt as if he really transported him to another time. So that is a good look but even Fate had no character or presence in the film. I had no reaction when he died. Simply irrelevant.
Somehow they also managed to have a villain named Sabbac, with no real motivation or anything, making it a final nail in the “from realistic to fictional” setting. There was no emotion when he came or when he died. And everytime they had the crown, I wondered that with so many resources at their disposal, could they not distract the enemy with a fake one?
The ancient language in the film seemed to have little to no relevance when every time a character reads from the scriptures, they directly speak in English rather than in the ancient language itself. That really tones down the established layer of the film.
The climax was good where Teth breaks the throne. The only plausible storytelling decision in the entire film. And speaking of the post credits scene, it didn’t really make much sense considering it was fate who freed Teth and Hawkman who said a merry goodbye to him in the end.
Superman’s cameo is amazing but Williams’ theme as an addition is a big no, considering there already exists a Superman theme in the DCU. On a regular day, this wouldn’t have been an issue but considering Warner Bros. Discovery’s constant push to milk Superman on nostalgia, I do not support that. But this also helps separate the DC films into two timelines with Hans Zimmer’s and Tom Holkenberg’s theme for Superman being in one canon and John Williams’ theme being in the other. Considering the last times DC used this theme were in Joss Whedon’s “Justice League” and “Shazam!”, they form a singular canon to “Black Adam” along with “Aquaman.”
The film doesn’t really explain why they want to lock Adam up when they have literally no solution to Khandaq’s problems. This feels like a good addition to Joss Whedon’s “Justice League” where the heroes and the villain had no character at all. They all existed for two hours and were forgotten after the credits rolled out. Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder spent almost a decade from 2005 to make DC into a universe that can exist in the real world but with WB’s insatiable desire to copy Marvel, most of it was lost when they made “Josstice League” and “Aquaman,” and now it’s completely descended to a universe that can not exist in the real world with an emotionless two dimensional Dwayne Johnson cinematic misery.
The question still remains about who the old champion was in Shazam! and how Billy managed to share power with his foster family while Black Son not being able to do the same.
“Black Adam” feels like a film made solely so Dwayne Johnson can punch some non-playable characters as if he’s the main lead of a “Grand Theft Auto” game. In my opinion, if this is how The Rock plans on expanding the DC Universe, there’s no need for a DC Universe in the slightest. It’s just random characters coming in and Black Adam punching them onto space. It feels as if the character was a passion project for 15 years but there never existed a story and there was no directorial presence in this film at all. It felt as if a bunch of executives sat down to see Dwayne Johnson all excited about Black Adam and shot a few action scenes to make him happy and called it a day. Jaume Collet-Serra deserves better than this considering he is someone who can truly deliver.
With so little to offer in terms of the characters, especially Black Adam, this film feels like a disservice not only to Black Adam but the Justice Society as well. The movie would have benefited immensely if it were a part of “Shazam!”, which is an immensely better executed film by David F. Sandberg. Not only would that have given us a poetic theme but would’ve enriched DCU with a full scale mythological tale of morality and innocence, choices and circumstances, freedom and quest for one. But rather, we ended up with a studio product. Hence, with lack of plot, motivations and dialogue and pretty much everything, I’d rate this film’s awkward existence two stars out of five.