‘Black Adam’ Packs a Mighty Punch, But Is it Worth the Journey to the Cinema?
Black Adam has been heavily publicized by the comic book franchise for a hot minute now and, with the addition of Johnson as the titular character, the film hype has been astronomical. Fans of the franchise expected it to have all the elements of a typical super-hero film: a dashing hero with a tragic backstory (or in this case not-so-dashing hero because as Adam says, he is not a hero), likable supporting characters, larger-than-life fight scenes, massive destruction of buildings and the final defeat of the thorn in the hero’s side: the bad guys or, in this case, a demon from the darkest pits of hell.
Black Adam checks all the boxes and, even though it is cliché, it still works because not only do the actors deliver on screen, the behind-the-scenes work is absolute perfection. The attention to detail, the special effects, the cinematography, and the setting deserves accolades because the director, Jaume Collet-Serra went big. He had to because a $195 million budget is no joke.
The film starts with the backstory of Khandaq – an ancient Egyptian city known as the hub of civilization – and how Teth-Adam became known as Black Adam. Khandaq was the hub of wealth, power, and magic, but the Khandaqi people still lived in poverty and were forced to become slaves under the rule of King Ahk-Ton. After seeing their affliction, a powerful wizard named Shazam, in conjunction with the Council of Wizards, bestowed on a young boy named Harut, the powers of six Egyptian gods. They raised him to be the champion and savior of Khandaq after noticing his valiance. Because of his powers, he became Khandaq’s ruler, but he eventually passed his powers on to his father, Teth Adam, to save him.
Teth-Adam’s name changed to Black Adam, and he was imprisoned for 5,000 years by the people that gave his son his powers because he unleashed chaos on his beloved homeland. He is accidentally awakened by an archaeological team led by a Khandaqi professor named Adrianna (Sarah Shahi). They were in search of a demonic crown, and they got it, along with Teth Adam.
Adam has a bad habit of killing his enemies with lightning and this catches the attention of the JSA (Justice Society of America). They set up a team consisting of Dr Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) who travel to Khandaq to apprehend the “not-so-hero”.
There is instant tension between Adam and the JSA troupe (Cue the intense fight scenes and the iconic “I kneel before no one” line) but all of it comes to a halt when the professor’s son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) is kidnapped. Then they are forced to work together to defeat the kidnapper and traitor who happens to be the descendant of King Ahk-Ton.
After all that, a demon lord from the pits of hell is raised thanks to the demonic crown, Khandaq is nearly consumed by fire, someone dies, there is more backstory talk and Adam discovers that he is the champion that Khandaq needs. He does not have to be labeled or categorized as a hero or antihero, he just must be himself (with his superpowers of course) and the Khandaqi people would love him all the same. Oh, and being himself does not include his anger issues and zapping people with lightning. The JSA will come for him again.
For the most part, Black Adam stays true to the serialized stories in the comic books and that is a huge plus for the film. We all know how annoying it is when films deviate from the books they were birthed out of because the directors want to be “original” and “organic.” Collet-Serra deserves a big round of applause for “sticking to the script” and not overdoing it with the innovations.
One noteworthy scene in the film, the one towards the end, is when Atom Smasher says that he hopes to ally himself with Adam someday. It may seem like a simple statement, but it is a big deal because, in the comic books, they do form an alliance that blossoms into a friendship. Adam gives Smasher a temporary home after his fallout with the JSA and Smasher helps Adam rule over Khandaq.
Smasher engages in some criminal activities while in Khandaq and surrenders to the JSA. They take him to the prison, Belle Reve, and he meets Amanda Waller who recruits him as a member of the revamped Suicide Squad. Remember, there is a DC film called Suicide Squad and the new series, The Peacemaker, features members of the squad as well. It is unclear whether Smasher would join the squad in the film universe, but the connection between the comics and the different films and series in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is pure gold!
The film’s highlight is that cameo that will forever live rent-free in the minds of DCEU diehards. It sets the tone for a Black Adam 2 and shows that Adam may be up against some severe competition if he breaks the covenant he made with Waller (Viola Davis). He may have saved his homeland from plunging into the pits of hell, but can he save himself from the hands of those who still consider him a threat? We must stay tuned till DCEU decides to extend Johnson’s contract.
Johnson zaps and zooms through the air in a tight bodysuit and cape and even though he is the star of the show, the actual scene stealer is Sabongui. Though a new actor in the industry, he manages to bring in the fun in the film, even though his character manages to always raise his mother’s blood pressure. His chemistry with Johnson is pure, not forced, and he is a face we need to see more of in Hollywood.
Every film has its pros and cons, and since the pros have been highlighted, the cons must be given the spotlight as well. DCEU, for the last time, please do not waste precious minutes over-explaining your characters’ backstory. The first thirty minutes or so of Black Adam is spent explaining Adam’s life history, and it gets annoying very quickly.
DCEU is big on characters with backstories, and they tend to hammer on that a lot in their films, but since this one is not as dark as The Dark Knight franchise and the newly released The Batman, they could have shaved some minutes or used it to show us more of that cameo.
It is a stretch to dub Black Adam as “the worst film ever” (yes, critics have already concluded on this damaging tagline) but what is up with Johnson’s character being so one-dimensional? Yes, Adam is meant to be devoid of emotions, but he is more of a stone than a demi-god. Even the gods have feelings and they have indeed uttered more words than Adam did.
Apart from his heroic acts, Adam does not do much except deliver one-liners like “I don’t have a home” or “My powers are not a gift.” Johnson is a superstar actor with a lot more range than being a broody character with no feelings. Even if that is the wave the film wants to ride on, they could have at least told him to crack a smile.
Black Adam is undoubtedly entertaining, and it pulls you in till you finish your last bag of popcorn. The comedic timings are perfect, the CGI is not “over CGI’d,” there is no unnecessary romance plot that makes you cringe, the soundtrack aptly fits the film and if you do not get anything out of the viewing experience, the one thing you should at least remember, and this is an important life lesson stated by Dr Fate, is: “The world doesn’t need a white knight; sometimes it needs something darker.”
Release Date: October 21, 2022
Streaming Service: Cinematic Release
Run-time: 2 hours and 4 minutes
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Bodhi Sabongui, and Pierce Brosnan