Watching an action movie shouldn’t seem like a chore, but Black Adam does. Among publicly damned string of decisions, Warner Bros. has released a DC Extended Universe movie that’s more grueling than exciting, rolling out boring exposure along with bad action for a jumbled mess of a movie that wastes its big budget and Dwayne Johnson’s promising star power, Aldis Hodge, and Noah Centineo. So, Warner Bros. will serve it in theaters, but they won’t give it to us a stream Bad girl? What does it give?
Things Black Adam from?
Dwayne Johnson as titular DCEU anti-hero.
Credit: Warner Bros.
If you’re unfamiliar with comic book character Black Adam, fear not as his eponymous film will spend an exceptional amount of screen time – two hours and four minutes, in fact – stubbornly exposing his past story in stern sepia flashbacks, dark voiceover, jarring exhibition dumps and even more flashbacks.
The opening sequence takes the audience back to 2600 BC in the imaginary Middle Eastern kingdom of Kahndaq, where a power-hungry tyrant enslaved his people, forcing them to extract a powerful element called “eternium”. With DC’s response to vibranium, the evil king plans to forge a mighty demon-possessed crown. Then, a band of good wizards choose a champion to take him down. You know, a bit like those of 2019 Shazam! except this time, the magically burly protagonist is not a brave neighborhood superhero, happy to help. He is dark. We know this because he’s dressed in black, he’s played by Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) in perpetually dazzling mode and, for good measure, other characters repeatedly insist that Black Adam is “dark” and “no hero”.
Black Adam beats Hawkman in the “Black Adam” Comic Con preview.
Somehow the triad of screenwriters (Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani) thought audiences might have missed the wave of visual cues: an extended and shockingly violent first act sequence in which Black Adam stands up in the present, then immediately burns the wave after a wave of paramilitary enemies, wielding helicopters like a blunt weapon, turning mercenaries into screaming ashes with its lightning-fast touch, and placing a live grenade between a man’s teeth. So in case you – or the guys you might bring to this PG-13 movie – miss it, the Justice Society shows up to wave their finger repeatedly, insisting that heroes don’t kill people.
Not the Justice League, mind you. The DCEU is introducing a new team of superintendents, and in a frustrating and slapdash way.
Black Adam it’s bogged down by too much texture.
Aldis Hodge takes on the role of Hawkman.
Credit: Warner Bros.
5,000 years after his first Shazaamed, Black Adam rises to tear apart his enemies. And the new Justice Society of the DCEU flies from America to intervene because by their standards, it’s making all superheroes wrong. With this conflict, there is almost a teasing thread about the problems with the American intervention in the Middle East. But there’s no time for true exploration when four new merchandising opportunities – I mean – heroes must be presented.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (The slums, Orphan) shows little interest in world building for the DCEU. He runs through the builds of Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) so fast it’s really comical. In their rush to “meet the team”, the writers leave Moreover hasty exposition that’s hard to grasp amidst the cross-cutting of so many bizarre intros and cameos (which I have to admit are a thrill). Black Adam he is in such a hurry to launch this group of C-list heroes into their battle with the protagonist, that it might turn your head. But it doesn’t matter, because there are also prophecies, more flashbacks, twists and turns, a fragile thread of love, a mother-child relationship, strange couple hijackings, and ultimately a great forgettable evil to face.
Watching all these things growl on the screen, it seems Warner Bros. had no faith in what might come in contact with the audience, so they threw up a little bit of everything to see what’s left. This could be bad news for 2023 Shazam! Fury of the gods. But let’s digress …
Dwayne Johnson is terribly wrong, while Aldis Hodge and Noah Centineo are drunk.
Noah Centineo plays Atom Smasher.
Credit: Frank Masi / Warner Bros.
Remember when Rock was fun?
He would have sported that mega-watt smile or lit that flame, and oh how we would laugh and be mesmerized by his booming charisma. It’s exactly that dazzling screen presence that inspired fans to cast him for the role of Shazam, long before the film was announced. But here we are, and he’s Shazam’s moody counterpart, who never smiles and makes jokes that land with the same thud as the bad guys he casually throws into the sky. Okay, I admit, the bad guy falling to death jokes work. But the credit to the sound and editing teams is due there.
Built like a Samoan god, Rock looks like the part of a muscular superhero. But Black Adam it bleeds him of all his powers of panache. Then, amidst CGI-dense, muddy and visually confusing action scenes, he’s floating and frowning.
Similarly wasted is Aldis Hodge, who has cheered critics One night in Miami … And The invisible man. As Hawkman, Hodge has the opportunity to show off and frown with intensity. But between the quarrel between his Justice Society newbies and the reckless resurrected demigod, most of Hawkman’s scenes boil down to his father’s “don’t get me back there” energy. Hodge nails this. But we have seen that he is capable of much more.
Quintessa Swindell is Cyclone.
Credit: Warner Bros.
Likewise, Hodge’s on-screen teammates are assigned subtly written characters. To his credit, Pierce Brosnan doesn’t let the lack of exposure on his Doctor Fate weigh him down. There is a resigned ridicule in his portrayal of the elegant and omnipotent wizard, fitting in with a past superhero in his prime who has seen enough and is happy to accept nonsense as it comes. Plus, Brosnan brings easy swagger and lightness, which turns out to be a nice contrast to Hawkman’s sternness.
Decorated in alt-girl style, Quintessa Swindell is a light in the middle of the world dark from Black Adamhe is a resolute thoughtful. Whether it’s vividly explaining nanobot technology, quickly unraveling his character’s tragic story, or flirting with his big teammate “Smasher”, it’s a delight. Too bad he’s barely in the movie.
The same goes for Noah Centineo, who has become famous as the romantic interest for To all the guys I loved before. Here, he works in the same mold, playing the passionate but goofy Atom Smasher as if Peter Kavinsky and his charming, crooked smile wander off the football field in world-saving cheats. Where Rock tinkers with his lines, Centineo knocks down the himbo humor and plays him perfectly … for the snippets of the film he’s actually in.
Black Adam flirt with a purpose.
Sarah Shahi as Adrianna and Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate.
Credit: Warner Bros.
With all this plot dissection, I haven’t even gotten to the superpowered humans at the heart of Black Adam. A rebellious widow (a royal Sarah Shahi), her comedic / football / brother side (a genuinely foolish uncle, Mohammed Amer) and her precocious son (a high-energy Bodhi Sabongui) are Black Adam’s first friendly contacts in the human world. The boy and the demigod follow a similar trajectory to the Shazam! story arc, in which a comic-obsessed boy instructs his super-powered friend on how to live up to the chimney of the likes of Superman. And in bursts, this is fun! But bogged down by mulling over, too much plot and newly formed heroes and villains, Black Adam becomes a bore.
It’s not that overall it’s a slog. But weighed down by so much franchise world building, Collet-Serra can’t gain momentum. Safe, Black Adam has a lot of bang ’em-up action sequences. But buried in the blurring of whiz-bang and gummy CGI figures, these scenes have the thrill and emotional resonance of watching a child smash their superhero action figures together. Eventually, even the bright spots are tarnished by the stubborn darkness of the DCEU’s relentless need to be gritty, leaving me with a bunch of baffled questions.
Why when Shazam! brought the welcome lightness back to this superhero realm, he did Black Adam become his dull and joyless cousin? Why stifle the potential thrills of new faces with a deluge of exhibits that are as boring as they are unnecessary? Why cast the Rock to make him play with the stone face? Why bother pouring all this money, talent and effort into making a film that looks less like a movie and more simply a ploy to create a flurry of uncertain spin-offs? And finally, look Black AdamI couldn’t help but wonder if WB thinks this looks like a worthwhile cinematic action, we can trust that they made the right choice to kill Bad girl?
Black Adam will be released in theaters on October 21st.