Black Adam MOVIE REVIEW: epic yet gratuitous action, tragic story, focus on family & what heroism is
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra, Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Teth-Adam/Black Adam), Sarah Shahi (Adrianna Tomaz), Aldis Hodge (Carter Hall/Hawkman), Pierce Brosnan (Kent Nelson/Dr. Fate), Quintessa Swindell (Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone), Noah Centineo (Al Rothstein/Atom Smasher), Bodhi Sabongui (Amon Tomaz), Music by: Lorne Balfe.
Duane Johnson fought long and hard battles before he even tried on the first Black Adam costume, just to get this movie made. Yes, it’s always been a no-brainer who should play Black Adam in the DCU, and yes, Johnson was born to play this role, but should it really have been this difficult and taken this long for this character from the Golden Age of comics to get his silver screen debut?
The behind the scenes battles are for another writer to wax on about; I’m here to tell you whether Black Adam is worth your time and why.
Well, if you like action, then this is definitely the movie for you. There are more fights and gunfire and explosions and destruction than any superhero movie I have ever seen, including Man of Steel, which set the bar higher than ever, and was criticized for it. Knowing that Dwayne Johnson is a producer on this movie, I could imagine hearing him urge the writers to “CREATE MORE ACTION! WE NEED MORE ACTION!” Honestly, even with as impressive as it all was, I was exhausted at the end of the movie and my ears were ringing from all the battle noise. I found the amount of battles and violence tipped the scales into gratuitous territory.
That is not to say that this movie is a brainless, heartless slugfest; quite the contrary. It is full of humor and lighter moments. And there are two themes that are revisited again and again throughout Black Adam: the importance of family, and what it means to be a hero in today’s world.
Family is the main focus, from Black Adam’s tragic origin story told in multiple flashbacks of his life as a slave in fictional Kahndaq 5,000 years ago, to Adrianna Tomaz’s struggle to keep her son safe above all else. Sarah Shahi is perfectly cast as Adrianna, fiercely protecting her son Amon in a country that is still under siege from outside forces, in this case the infamous Intergang, the vast criminal organization from 1970s DC Comics by Jack Kirby. Adrianna has the name and (supposed) magical amulet familiar to DC Comics fans; we shall see if she fulfills her suggested heroic destiny. As for Teth-Adam, great pains and screen time are taken to make us sympathize with his character, and excuse his homicidal mindset. It reminded me very much of George Lucas’s desperate and futile attempts to make us sympathize with Anakin Skywalker in his Star Wars prequels.
Which leads into this movie’s internal discussion about what is means to be a hero. Everyone in Kahndaq views Teth-Adam’s return as that of a liberating hero, yet the rest of the world sees him as an uncontrollable weapon of mass destruction, especially the Justice Society, who are sent to bring him down. It’s debated much but isn’t resolved; Black Adam is left very much as an anti-hero who doesn’t mind killing those who get in his way.
The Justice Society was the Golden Age version of the modern Justice League: a union of superheroes who fought evils and threats normal mankind couldn’t. Back in the day, they included Dr. Fate and Hawkman, who are featured in this present-day group. Added are second generation versions of Justice Society heroes Red Tornado in the colorful and playful Cyclone, and the Atom in Atom Smasher.
Casting for them all is perfect as well. Aldis Hodge has made quite the transformation from the skinny tech geek of tv’s Leverage to become a jacked and Hawkman, who is now leader of the Justice Society and one of the strongest members in the DCU, tough enough to repeatedly go toe-to-toe with Black Adam. His steely stare from behind his hawk mask is one of my favorite images from the movie.
Pierce Brosnan brings needed gravitas as Kent Nelson/Dr. Fate, the DCU’s version of Marvel super-sorcerer Doctor Strange (though Fate predates Strange by almost 30 years). It was kinda funny though; it must have been in Brosnan’s contract that he appear without his helmet as much as possible, because I lost track of how many times we whipped it off, even during a battle.
Atom Smasher is the nephew of another Golden Age Justice Society member. He is the DCU version of Ant Man/Giant Man, and can grow to huge size and strength. A chuckle accompanied with an “I’m not buying this” will be had when you see his uncle The Atom in a cameo.
Johnson himself certainly embodies the role perfectly, although I felt he was in Arnold Swarzenegger/Terminator mode: a one-note character with fish-out-of-water attempts at one-liners. However, he does show impressive acting stretches in flashbacks as the tortured and grieving Teth-Adam.
The costuming designs by "Kurt and Bart" are for the most part fantastic and full of interesting details, from the cuneiform covering Black Adam, to the hieroglyphics all over Fate, and the interesting additions to his previously featureless helmet.
An exception was the out-of-place costume of Cyclone, which looked like a garishly colored Victorian design with its poofy shoulders.
Hawkman himself is by far the best designed suit of them all with its bold red and gold scheme; every metallic feather is visible and the helmet is intimidating instead of goofy or ill-fitting. Kudos to the designers of the Hawk jet, one of the most badass planes I’ve ever seen.
The special effects are for the most part well done and impressive, with the possible exception of the Big Bad in the climax. Any time a villain is a full-on CGI character, it seems to fall short in quality and believability (Steppenwolf, anyone?).
Black Adam will be a treat for fans who know who all the characters are, and enjoyable for those who don’t, because they are all smoothly introduced in a non-forced way. As to whether Black Adam is a hero or not, you will have to decide for yourself.
P.S. Don't leave until you see the massive cameo in the final extra scene before the credits roll (that is, unless the internet has spoiled it for you already).
The Marvel Family #1 (1945) First appearance of Black Adam
Black Adam: The Dark Age (2007) Collected 6-issue miniseries
Black Adam (2022)