Film Reviews

Black Adam – Film Review

Well, Black Adam, you took your time! Dwayne Johnson was announced to play the Shazam! villain back in the Autumn of 2014. In the interim, delays have occurred for any number of reasons, from the continual changes in overall DC-related strategy at Warner Bros, to the periodic concerns they seemed to have about an actor of Johnson’s stature playing a bad guy, to whether to introduce the character in this solo effort or as a cameo in one of the other releases.

There have also been various changes of director. In that time, we have had two Venom films, as well as more malleability between good hero and anti-hero in characters such as Wanda Maximoff, leading to a comic book movie landscape far more accustomed to giving the viewer shades of grey in its heroes. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (he of various Liam Neeson actioners) has given us a work that reflects the character’s harder hitting origins, whilst still allowing for him to be our heroic lead.

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So, as for the plot. We are given a prologue beginning in 2600 BCE, where Anh-Kot, King of North African nation Kahndaq, creates the Crown of Sabbac in order to wield unnatural powers (think The One Ring). After an attempted revolt against Anh-Kot – who is enslaving his people to find the necessary elements to power the crown, a young slave boy is given the power of Shazam, turning him into an enhanced figure with a similar power set, and allowing his to become his nation’s champion, killing the king and ending the tyranny.

In the present day, Kahndaq is being terrorised by organised crime group the Intergang (described as organised crime, but presenting more like an occupying army – and while we are at it, Kahndaq presents as though it is one city, rather than a country). Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) is an archaeologist trying – along with her brother Karim (Mohammed Amer) – to find the lost crown of Sabbac. They are also assisted by a couple of friends, including Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari). As they find it, they are found by members of the gang, and in fear of her life Adrianna reads the incantation on a tomb that awakens Teth-Adam (Johnson – later to be renamed as the titular character), who goes on to kill the masses that have attacked in search of the crown.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures – © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

As this is in the same universe as The Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is informed of the incident, and assembles the Justice Society of America, comprised of Carter Hall/Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) – the leader of the team; Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) – wielding the helmet of fate and thus able to see the future, as well as create various illusions (effectively Doctor Strange in the DCEU); Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) – a young woman who can control wind; and Al Rothstein/Atom Smasher – a young man who can grow in size to gigantic stature.

They are tasked with preventing Adam from doing any further damage and, as legends have it that he was a madman imprisoned in his time, capturing and imprisoning him. As they are working to bring down Adam, a figure is hiding in plain sight, ready to grab the crown and unleash Hell on Earth. The team have to consider if their understanding of Adam is correct, while Adam needs to consider what exactly his purpose in life is, and whether he wants to be a man of rage, or a champion again for his people.

So, let’s start with the less than good news. Black Adam is not, in any way at all, a stand-out superhero movie. Dwayne Johnson has wonderful screen presence, but his slightly taciturn character moderately wastes his skills. Although sporting decent effects, paid for with a lavish budget, the fact that it is set mostly in the same city gives it a relatively small feeling. The chemistry between Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), Adrianna’s son, is lacking (and it seems only there to nod to the fact that Shazam was both a child and remained friends with a child), and the decisive battle feels like a video game boss fight, and really does not engage.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures – © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

It is, however, a reasonably decent entry for the DCEU. The prologue immediately engages us and prepare for a return to the more mystical corner of this universe, with the historical angle giving it a different feel from the Zachery Levi-led film. It stakes out a different tone from any of Shazam!, the wider DCEU or the MCU.

It is far weightier in tone than its predecessor; although having some similarities in visual tone (slight desaturation, plenty of dust and fire), it is far less self-serious than the Snyder films – with Hawkman and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan being comfortably the best thing in this film – all relaxed charm masking a deep sadness) having a genuine chemistry and some good lines. Yet that very sadness that underpins Brosnan’s character, along with a definite feel that Adam is not quite all he seems, means that the humour never has the throwaway, slightly-insulting to the story quality that we see in the very weakest Marvel entries. Action is well shot, with the rumoured cuts that had to be made to get this film into the 12A/PG-13 certification suggesting that this film was shot with a harder edge in mind, and Adam’s willingness to kill means that we do feel – at times – greater stakes.

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We are left with a product that does feel – slightly – assembly line. The final act evokes any number of entries in the superhero genre, from Wonder Woman, to Thor: The Dark World, while the aforementioned endless rounds of cuts suggests that although there was a willingness to go darker (really darker, that is, not just colour palette and lip-service), in the event the studio balked and let the end product be watered down to meet the widest possible audience.

This is not always a bad thing, but of all the films to blunt in this manner, this really wasn’t the one. Far braver would it have been to let this stand alone as Shazam’s far rougher cousin – particularly given his influence in the world has been set-up to be over such a small part of it – rather than structure this in such a way as to allow him the widest possible interplay with the rest of the universe. That said, it really is a decent watch, and far from a disappointment when taken in context of the DCEU as a whole.

Black Adam is out now in cinemas.

1 comment

  1. Amon being in the film, and his relationship with Adam, probably isn’t a nod to Shazam being a kid, but because in the comics Amon and Adrianna become members of the Black Adam family as his step-son and wife, becoming the powered heroes Osiris and Isis. I imagine it’s either setting up for that future possibility, or a nod to the fans of the comics.It’s cool that they’re included though. 🙂

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