By Kieran Burt.
Black Adam has finally hit theatres after a long period in development (since 2007) and it feels like it. It hasn’t taken into account any of the innovations of modern superhero story telling, and instead feels like what happened before Iron Man reinvented the genre.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’Johnson stars as the titular character, but comes off as an actual, emotionless rock. The Justice Society of America (JSA) finally make their debut, with the film mostly focussing on Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman and Pierce Brosnan’s Doctor Fate. Atom Smasher and Quintessa Swindell’s Cyclone get very little screen time, and are completely absent from the final fight. Johnson is clearly the star of the show here.
Apart from looking amazing – Hawkman’s wingbeats are fluid, with the sun reflecting off each armor piece, Doctor Fate’s gold and blue costume is magnificent, with the gold again glistening in the sun. Brosnan brings a more reflective take to the character, but leaves much unexplored. Hodge brings stubbornness and stoicism to Hawkman. But the JSA itself doesn’t get much time together, certainly nothing that allows them to form a sense of team dynamic.
Black Adam skips through a lot of character work and mostly focuses on city levelling action. Motivations of characters are glossed over, with only little nuggets of character beats here and there, but nothing that would resemble anything interesting. Doctor Fate is the worst example of this, with the flim hinting at a troubled past, but doing nothing to explain it, and a major decision he makes later on in the film. The villain is also the most generic evil, with nothing distinguishable or unique.
The action is serviceable, though certain sequences overly rely on slow motion. The destruction of the action is huge, and is undoubtedly epic in scale. DC films in the past are known for thinking bigger, more destructive action is automatically better than smaller scale set pieces, and this film falls victim to that. There are never any stakes to what’s going on.
There are however, for all of the film’s serious brooding, a few humorous moments. Atom Smasher is clearly the comic relief, but there are some outside of him. It brings much needed levity to an otherwise dark, edgy plot, which sometimes is just edgy for the sake of it.
Plot wise the film is extremely muddled. It starts off with the Middle Eastern country being ruled over by an international gang, oppressing the local people with checkpoints, stealing their resources and waging war. This of course is a wholly unsubtle comment on the actions of Western countries in the Middle East. Black Adam challenges this, and becomes a saviour figure for those in the country.
The JSA are brought in to maintain the Western order and defeat Black Adam, earning the ire of the citizens. This point is unique and could have made for fascinating exploration, but fell away as the film went on. It’s a huge missed opportunity.
The film only keeps this up for about half of its runtime though, before it goes into the supernatural. There is a crown that will grant the wearer something and has a mirror inscription on it. Turns out one of the guy’s Black Adam vaporizes is transported to hell to become their champion, but it isn’t clear why he’s the only one sent. Black Adam vaporizes a lot of people over the run time, with none having any more significance than any other. This is one of the rare expositions that could do with more exposition to explain what’s happening.
All of this fails to learn the lessons of recent superhero villains, which for the most part have solved all the flaws described above. Iron Man shows the character of Tony Stark just as much as Iron Man, Spider-man: Homecoming has an extremely well-motivated villain, and Guardians of the Galaxy nails the team dynamic without any prior setup. Black Adam isn’t terrible by any means, but not one to rewatch in a hurry.