The DCEU has undoubtedly had its share of issues along its projected path. The DCEU is attempting to catch up with its own domain of costumed heroes and superhuman creatures. At the same time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) continues to serve audiences everywhere with its huge cinematic library of Marvel characters’ heroic adventures. The company, which is controlled by Warner Bros. Pictures, has struggled to find a viable formula for transforming DC Comics superheroes into cinematic endeavors for viewers to enjoy.
This appears to be evident in the split decisions of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the problematic attempts in 2016’s Suicide Squad, and the disappointing presentation of 2017’s Justice League, with most perceiving these projects (in broad terms) to fall short of the expectations. This is elaborated upon by additional initiatives such as 2020’s Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman 1984, which received mixed reactions from critics and moviegoers alike, as well as the DCEU shake-up, which saw future projects pushed back, shifted about, and even shelved entirely (the now unreleased Batgirl film).
That being said, the DCEU is beginning to find its stride, particularly following the release of 2017’s Wonder Woman, 2018’s Aquaman, and 2019’s Shazam!, each of which has its own swagger and appeal that works in both cinematic narrative and entertainment for viewers. Following the more positive reception of 2021’s Suicide Squad, Warner Bros Studios and director Jaume Collet-Sera prepare to release Black Adam, the next episode in the DCEU. Given the excitement and expectation for this project, can this superhero fly to blockbuster stardom, or will it be a derivate and sloppy production that goes nowhere?
The Story of Black Adam
The wicked crime syndicate Intergang has grabbed the land for themselves in the Middle Eastern country of Kahndaq, placing the population under their rule while they exploit its natural riches, notably Eternium. Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) is a little boy who wishes to cause problems for the invaders of his nation, while his mother, Adrianna (Sarah Shahl), is an archaeologist who is looking for the famous Crown of Sabbac, a mystical relic capable of bestowing immense power on the bearer. Adrianna discovers an old tomb while looking for the crown in a nearby crypt, and when challenged by oncoming Intergang enforcers, she manages to rescue Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson), an ancient creature blessed with tremendous talents.
When Amon returns to Kahndaq, he tries to persuade Teth-Adam to become a hero for the people, citing the just awakened man’s god-like power and Shazam magic’s ability to easily destroy aggressors. The Justice Society, led by superhero veterans Kent Nelson / Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and Carter Hall / Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and recruit newcomers Maxine Hunkel / Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Albert “Al” Rothstein / Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), is tasked with determining just how dangerous Black Adam truly is. Unbeknownst to all sides, another party is on the hunt for the Crown of Sabbac, claiming the ancient power for himself and pursuing sovereignty with horrific repercussions.
The GOOD & The BAD
It’s simple to point out the distinctions between the MCU and the DCEU. It’s a night and day difference, with one studio finding its groove (although predictable in some ways) and becoming effective, while the other fails to find its stride. Yes, I confess that I like Man of Steel (probably one of the few who did), Wonder Woman (love actress Gal Gadot as Diana Prince), and Aquaman (the sheer epic grandeur of the film is great), but the DCEU has been troublesome with their previous releases (i.e. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman 1984, and Justice League).
While promising with plenty of superhero nuances and inherit hype from its pre-release marketing, those features didn’t exactly match up to what many (including myself) expected, which is reflected in feedback from moviegoers and the “behind the scenes” shake-up of the franchise, leaving the continuation of the DCEU in a somewhat ambiguous limbo state, in contrast to how the MCU is presenting its feature films.
However, some of their recent initiatives have had better results than others, such as the far more positive treatment of the Suicide Squad in the 2021 picture and the significantly improved director’s edit of Justice League in Zack Snyder’s Justice League in 2021. Finally, it’s difficult to predict what route Warner Bros Studios will go with the DCEU, especially given the company’s merger with Discovery. Let us all hope for the best!
This leads me back to Black Adam, a 2022 superhero picture and the tenth entry in the DCEU roster (eleventh if Zack Snyder’s Justice League is included). Given the DCEU’s recent struggles in attempting to develop its own so-called “cinematic rhythm,” I was intrigued when Black Adam was initially announced, especially with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson playing the title lead character role. Of course, Johnson has already been in a variety of action and comic roles, but not in a superhero film.
I enjoy Johnson in several of his films (especially Moana, the Jumanji films, and all of the Fast and Furious films), so I was curious to see how the former wrestler-turned-actor would handle such a starring superhero character as Black Adam. From that point forward, I didn’t hear anything about the film. I mean, I heard about it, but I didn’t know anything about the characters, the narrative, the director, or anything else. Only that it would be a “hyped up” blockbuster film for the DCEU.
Of course, my first true impression of the film came in the form of Black Adam movie trailers, which were widely highlighted during the “coming attractions” previews every time I went to the theater. From that alone, the film seemed promising, and Johnson appeared to be a fantastic fit for such a stoic, no-nonsense antihero figure. As a result, I was intrigued by Black Adam and went to watch it on its opening day, October 21st, 2022. What did I think of it? Well, I have to tell you that I was quite disappointed with the film.
Despite having some fun with its nonstop action and a very appropriate match for Johnsons as the eponymous character, Black Adam feels like a dated and clichéd superhero origin movie with little depth to maintain such a popular figure. There are a few redeeming aspects, but they are insufficient to elevate the project above average. That’s a pity for a film that was billed as the “next great thing” in the DCEU.
Jaume Collet-Sera, whose previous films include Non-Stop, The Shallows, and Jungle Cruise, directs Black Adam. Given his experience with tense thrills and action scenes in previous films, Collett-Sera appears to be an appropriate option to helm Black Adam, a promised action-packed superhero thriller. Thus, I praise Collet-directing Sera’s for embracing the many action moments throughout the picture for that effort alone. Personally, I think the action scenes were better in the first half than the second, but (generally) the film delivers on the high-octane action sequences promised in the trailers.
Non-Stop Action Movie
In this aspect, I believe Collet-Sera succeeds in making the action fast-paced and entertaining to watch. There is violence in the picture (Black Adam is classified PG-13), and there are a few times when Teth-Adam deals with flawed characters in a Mortal Kombat-Esque finishing technique. Basically, Collet-Sera knows what viewers want to see and provides it in the film, with the action scenes being some of the greatest parts of Black Adam. It’s nothing mind-blowing or extremely fantastic, but it’s enjoyable to see, which Black Adam mainly relies on.
Black Adam is directed by Jaume Collet-Sera, whose previous films include Non-Stop, The Shallows, and Jungle Cruise. Collett-Sera looks to be a perfect choice to direct Black Adam, a projected action-packed superhero movie, based on his past expertise with dramatic thrills and action scenes. As a result, I applaud Collet-directing Sera’s embrace of the various action scenes throughout the film. Personally, I believe the action scenes were better in the first half than in the second, but the film (usually) delivers on the high-octane action sequences promised in the trailers.
I’ve always been drawn to films like that, and while it’s not as thrilling as other ventures, I like the film’s embrace of the fantasy superhero element. In terms of the emotional aspect, I liked how Collet-Sera stages a few of them as well as a few poignant means, such as why the JS (or any other superhero for that matter) hasn’t stepped in to stop the Intergang organization from oppressing the people of Kahndaq but has only come to the war-torn country to stop Teth-Adam. It may be a minor narrative detail to analyze or study, but I appreciate it because it raises an interesting issue about the nature of superheroes and what they consider important enough to become involved in.
In terms of presentation, Black Adam satisfies the industry criteria for a modern superhero blockbuster feature picture. It doesn’t push the bounds of current cinematic comic book film ventures, but it nonetheless adheres to their heritage and spirit. Of course, it’s intriguing to see the majority (if not all) of the film set in a Middle Eastern-esque nation (Kahndaq) rather than some generic “large metropolis” in the United States. While we’re on the subject, I liked how Black Adam had a few important crucial characters performed by Middle Eastern actors.
Anyway, the location depicts numerous war-torn locales, including a dilapidated downtown where many of the film’s conflicts take place, making the entire action sequences entertaining to watch. This also features numerous beautiful locations that (again) make use of the film’s mythological themes to help create the ancient energies at work in the old world. While the film isn’t faultless, I must commend numerous members of the film’s “behind the scenes” crew, notably Tom Meyer (production design), Larry Dias (set decorations), Kurt and Bart (costume design), and the whole art direction department.
Furthermore, Lawrence Sher’s cinematography work contains several wonderful moments that assist construct dramatic cinematics throughout the film. Even a few critical sectors are overutilized (more on that below). Finally, the film’s soundtrack, written by Lorne Balfe, is actually rather terrific. It has a lot to like since it has a lot of pounding bombastic parts as well as a few calmer / chanting suites that assist create the more dramatic/uplifting moments. Balfe delivered an excellent performance.
Unfortunately, Black Adam does not live up to the anticipation, with numerous and obvious flaws that prevent the film from standing tall and proud. The plot of the storyline is maybe the most prominent one that brings criticism to the picture. What exactly do I mean? For better or worse, the tale described in the film script by Black Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani is fairly predictable and almost formulaic to the touch. In a word, the tale in Black Adam is half-baked and suffers from a lack of adequate narrative architecture.
The film’s world-building, characters (and their growth), action, aesthetics, and superhero subtleties all feel half-finished, but were never adequately accomplished quite perfectly throughout production. Subplots are disjointed, plot gaps abound, the information supplied becomes irrelevant to the narrative (Eternimum), and characters are just poorly written. As a result, Black Adam comes out as a banal superhero blockbuster venture with only a skeleton of a plot to propel Johnson as the eponymous antihero figure.
Some Classic Exposition Scenes
Furthermore, the film makes extensive use of classic exposition scenes to swiftly catch us (the viewers) up on what is going on in the film’s setting. However, the use of such extended expositional periods can be tiresome, especially in the first act of a film, as Black Adam does. Yes, it was intriguing, but getting to the “meat and potatoes” of the narrative was tedious and monotonous. Not to mention the tacky and cringeworthy banter throughout the film. I had a feeling this was going to be the case, especially given some of the conversation in the film, but what was delivered felt pretty corny at points.
Furthermore, the film makes extensive use of classic exposition scenes to swiftly catch us (the viewers) up on what is going on in the movie’s setting. However, the use of such extended expositional periods can be tiresome, especially towards the opening of a film, as Black Adam does. Yes, it was intriguing, but getting to the “meat and potatoes” of the tale in the feature was tiring and monotonous. Not to mention the corny and cringeworthy language that runs throughout the film. I kind of expected this, especially given some of the conversation in the film, but what was delivered felt pretty corny at moments.
That is not to say that every single conversation line was horrible or dreadful, but there were more than I expected. Other of the jokes and gags (dialogue driven) were tonally odd and not very amusing (at all), while some of the more “heavy-hitting” ones (monologues or character-built moments) were clumsy and wooden. Another major issue is the film’s reuse (both in the superhero movie category and in its own aesthetics). How so? In terms of superhero movies, Black Adams feels quite antiquated, with a lot of similar tropes played out in the standard origin story for comic book heroes. Yes, I recognize that superhero movies are still “all the rage,” and origin feature films are still pretty frequent, and such storylines are widely employed as a technique and means to introduce a specific super.
That being said, Black Adam provides those recognizable beats but never really incorporates a more current approach or (for that matter) anything truly original into the mix. What’s presented has been done previously and on better storytelling platforms, leaving the film seeming obsolete, especially as superhero movies have developed into a more “golden era.”Of course, superhero initiatives have a tried-and-true framework to work with, but they nonetheless include a bit more ornate flare in their development (be it a story, characters, dramatics, etc.).
Black Adam seemed to like it was made in the mid-2000s when superhero films were still finding their feet before the release of films like 2008’s Iron Man or The Dark Knight. I know we’ve been spoilt with comic book superhero movies, but Black Adam doesn’t stand tall and proud in contrast to other releases in our current cinematic environment.
In terms of visuals, Black Adam’s many action sequences feel rehashed, with Collett-Sera producing some numbing effects inside some of the plot moments. How so? Witnessing Teth-Adam battle (and quickly destroy) a swarm of unidentified Intergang enforcers for the first time was very exciting, and seeing it repeat again and again in a variety of repetitious movements…. that becomes a bit tedious and mind-numbing to behold. The Justice Society’s role in the film is similar since they arrive with the intention of stopping Teth-Adam. It was cool the first time, but witnessing it happen again and again became boring and mind-numbing.
Trending as a New Blockbuster
Thus, the movie’s total repetition becomes a bore, and one can plainly notice the lack of depth that the script lacks for the plot, as well as the Collet-inability Sera’s to construct an effective and exciting superhero blockbuster. Also, I must emphasize the overuse of the “slow-motion” cinematic style and how it quickly becomes tedious. Yes, this isn’t a new or unique approach for dramatic effects in movies, but Black Adam does it so frequently that it becomes monotonous to watch practically every scene that employs “slow-motion.”
This also brings up the cinematography by Lawrence Sher, who follows Zack Snyder’s 300 ethos with Black Adam….and fails miserably. This also does not bode well for the film’s CGI visual effect shots, which range from acceptable to average, with a few apparent examples of substandard green-screen effects or computer-generated creations that are a touch amateurish in their overall presentation. Of course, a filmmaker must walk a “thin line” when it comes to superhero movies… provide too little and it becomes boring, give too much and it becomes all-action with no content.
Unfortunately, Black Adam leans largely toward the latter, with bloated action that, although impressive and visually engaging, never really challenges the status quo of either superhero movies or blockbuster films. This is likely most noticeable in the third act when the picture reaches the final fight, which becomes so heavily CGI-driven that it begins to seem like a video game climax.
Some things absolutely work in this section of the film, but it still feels empty and doesn’t have the same effect as what was intended. As a result, the finale of Black Adam feels repetitious and significantly less intriguing than other DCEU undertakings (nearly on par with 2016’s Suicide Squad), with a lack of heart and passion.
The cast of Black Adam is a combination of excellent and terrible, with some recognizable acting talents associated with this superhero movie, but most of the characters come across as a bit cliché or just undeveloped in the picture, rendering them fairly generic. The main character in Black Adam is maybe the most powerful (literally) and unforgettable in the entire film. Yes, I’m referring to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Black Adam, the antihero protagonist.
Johnson, best known for his roles in Moana, Central Intelligence, and Jungle Cruise, has certainly been around the movie industry for quite some time and has made a name for himself as a “larger-than-life” actor, always playing such “larger-than-life” characters in various activities and/or comedy films. One may call it “typecasting,” but Johnson is usually up to the challenge and is always terrific at delivering his dialogue lines… even if some of them are ridiculous. As a result, it’s no surprise that Johnson is an excellent choice for such a powerful superhero as Teth-Adam.
Essentially, Black Adam is a vehicle for Johnson, which is evident every time he appears on-screen. As previously said, Johnson has wanted to be a part of this project for quite some time, and it’s clear that he’s having a good time working on it. Physically…. he looks the part, with Johnson’s big body adding to the character’s frightening presence with his multiple superhero skills. He’s having a great time playing Adam, and he’s a lot of fun to watch.
Of course, the character’s limitations are rather obvious, especially as he is quite stern and stonewalled towards numerous circumstances and persons with whom he encounters. It’s what the screenplay asks for, and it grows tiresome as the film proceeds. As a result, the “humanity” element of Teth-Adam should have been handled better, making Johnson, who is typically superb at delivering those big, bombastic moments, come across as a little weaker than planned.
Still, what’s given works, and it’s clear that Johnson is having a good time playing a superhero. In short, whether you like the film or not, there is no disputing that Johnson is the major draw for Black Adam and perfectly embodies the part. Let’s hope he comes back for future DCEU ventures. I’d love to see him face off against Cavill’s Superman, Gadot’s Wonder Woman, or even Levi’s Shazam. Beyond Johnson, the remainder of the superhero characters in Black Adam comprises the Justice Society, which is a mixed bag of good to poor, especially given that the film introduces these characters relatively rapidly with little to no historical development.
Perhaps the most notable (of the bunch) is actor Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal as Kent Nelson / Dr. Fate, a superhero who wields sorcery and supernatural abilities from a magical helmet as well as seeing glimpses of the future (GoldenEye and The Thomas Crown Affair). Dr. Fate appears to be an intriguing superhero with extraordinary magical powers from a visual aspect. Furthermore, it’s entertaining to see Brosnan step into the superhero fray, and he easily outshines all of the other actors in the film, even Johnson. As a result, it was a pleasure to watch him in such a part and as a “experienced” actor in Black Adam.
That being said, Dr. Fate’s persona is very similar to Dr. Stephen Strange / Doctor Strange from the MCU, with a secret history into the mystic arts, fractal visuals while utilizing their powers, doppelganger spell to create many duplicates, and getting glimpses of future events. When the two are compared, they are pretty similar, and Dr. Fate, who is introduced in this film, does not have enough background to carry the character sufficiently, which is extremely disappointing.
Carter Hall / Hawkman, the winged commander of JS, is played by actor Aldis Hodge (Brian Banks and TURN: Washington’s Spies) after Brosnan’s Dr. Fate. Hawkman has a lot of screen time in Black Adam, and Hodge is up to the challenge of making the most of it as the more noble and moral superhero… virtually the polar opposite of Johnson’s Teth-Adam. In addition, it’s good to see Hawkman in a live-action DCEU feature picture. In practically every scene in the first half of the film, he ends up being merely a “punching bag” for Johnson to assault. In the second part, he finds some atonement and insight.
Unfortunately, the other two JS characters (Maxine Hunkel / Cyclone and Albert “Al” Rothstein / Atom Smasher), played by Quintessa Swindell (Trinkets and In Treatment) and Noah Centineo (The Perfect Date and The Recruit), are woefully underdeveloped in the film and should’ve been written out completely. Both characters are adequately represented visually, with Cyclone’s wind powers portrayed with dramatic flair and Atom Smasher’s growth/size discrepancy handled with funny laughter. However, their characters are non-existent and are simply along for the journey in Black Adam.
Cyclone is given little to make her personality stand out, while Atom Smasher provides a few moments of comedic relief, but it’s a bit “hit or miss.” As a result, it’s unfortunate that Swindell and Centineo don’t have much material to work with. Unfortunately, the remainder of the film’s non-superhero characters does much worse, becoming “cookie-cutter” caricatures that are exceedingly one-dimensional.
As previously said, I appreciate that Middle Eastern acting talent is being represented in the film as numerous characters, but this does not excuse the fact that these characters are badly written and mediocrely acted on-screen. The role of Adrianna Tomaz, an archaeologist from Kahndaq who is hunting for the Crown of Sabbac and assists Teth-Adam throughout the film and is performed by actress Sarah Shahl, is possibly the greatest of the bunch (Alias and Fairly Legal). Amon Tomaz, Adrianna’s son who is seeking to make Teth-Adam the hero that the people of Kahndaq deserve, who is performed by actor Bodhi Sabongui, fair the worst (in my view) (A Million Little Things and The Main Event).
Why does he have the worst luck? Because he’s as generic as they come in the film. He’s the annoyingly hyperactive youngster who befriends the hero and guides him in the right direction (or at least tries to). While Sabongui has the correct amount of enthusiasm for such a character, the character himself is so boring and plain that he just serves as a story device to help move events ahead.
As a result, Amon’s character is redundant and just bland. The same can be stated about the role of Karim Tomaz, Adrianna’s brother, performed by actor Mohammed Amer (Mo and Ramy). His role is intended to be the sidekick (of sorts) and has a lot of comic conversation lines, but the actual humor and how it is presented is quite flat and uninteresting, making Karim’s character rather dull and unmemorable…..despite the script’s attempts to make him memorable.
Even worse than any of them is the feature’s true major enemy, Ishmael Greggor, a coworker of Adriana who seeks the Crown of Sabbac for his own aspirations and is played by actor Marwan Kenzari (Aladdin and The Old Guard). Unfortunately, the film makes this character villain so boring, basic, and plain that it just comes off as a dreadful cliché.
It’s unfortunate since I’ve seen some of Kenzari’s previous work and he actually does a wonderful job with his acting abilities, which makes it all the more disappointing to see him reduced to such a tasteless baddie who’s as generic as they come. Furthermore, the film instantly establishes him as the antagonist, despite the writing and direction’s efforts to conceal this fact, which renders it entirely unnecessary. In the end, Kenzari’s Ishmael is just another hackneyed villain with a bad history and an even worse screen presence.
There are also a few cameos from earlier DCEU films, like actor Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator and Blood Diamond) as the wizard Shazam, actress Viola Davis (The Woman King and Fences) as Amanda Waller, and actress Jennifer Holland (Peacemaker and Brightburn) as Email Harcourt. Again, most of these cameo appearances are brief, but they contribute to the sense that Black Adam is a part of the greater DCEU universe. Finally, there is an Easter egg sequence in the movie during the credits (aka the mid-credit point). It’s definitely my favorite scene in the film. Of course, I won’t reveal things for my readers, but I was expecting another individual to come instead of the one with whom Black Adam briefly chats.
However, who he really interacts with is fantastic, and it has piqued my interest in what future DCEU chapters may include.
Final Thoughts on BLACK ADAM
You have two options: you may either be the world’s destroyer or its savior. It’s entirely up to you!” a question posed to Teth-Adam, who has awakened from his slumberous prison and must learn to help preserve the people of Kahndaq or become its destruction in the film Black Adam The next film from director Jaume Collet-Sera addresses the famous and strong antihero figure of the DC Comics roster, delivering an origin story that serves as an introduction to the eponymous character in the DCEU.
Unfortunately, despite a barrage of action scenes, a few storytelling elements, and some likable performances (most notably from Johnson and Brosnan), the rest of the film ends up being a haphazard mess of the superhero endeavor, owing to a lack of narrative substance, a messy (and dated) plot, recycled ideas, overuse of technical effects, a few rushed visuals, a bland antagonist, generic ending battle, and unmemorable characters.
Personally, I was dissatisfied with this picture, especially given it was widely touted as the most anticipated film in the DCEU.
It has its moments, and I liked Johnson in the lead part, but the rest is a pure flop, which is quite disappointing. Worse still… This is arguably my least favorite DCEU film right now, and that includes Suicide Squad from 2016. I truly wanted to like this film, but I couldn’t find any joy or spectacle in it. As a result, my advice for this film is to “avoid it,” since while some viewers may be interested in seeing it, it’s best not to or simply wait for it to come to streaming / TV.
The film’s finale suggests that Johnson’s Black Adam will be a part of the future DCEU, which I embrace but hope will be an upgrade over this picture. In the end, Black Adam is a plodding, recycled, and outmoded superhero who serves little purpose other than to incorporate Johnson’s Adam into the greater cinematic world of DC heroes and villains. In a nutshell, the film is all Johnson and no substance!