SPOILERS FOR BLACK ADAM, READ AT YOUR OWN WILL!
“The hierarchy of the DC Universe is about to change.” Those were the words of The Rock when we were first shown concept art of the movie back during DC FanDome 2020. Now, in 2022, The Rock finally gets to realize his seven-year long dream in the form of Black Adam, though does it stand to make a lasting impact within the DCEU? Well, yes, but to a certain degree.
Black Adam follows the story of Teth-Adam (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his awakening on Earth 5,000 years after being imprisoned in the depths of Khandaq. However, a new threat has taken over the people of Khandaq, but Teth-Adam decides to dispense his own justice in his wake. With the arrival of Teth-Adam also comes the intervention of the Justice Society, formed by Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), whose goal is to stop Teth-Adam before his rage destroys the world.
For one thing, Black Adam continues to push the visuals of what we’ve seen from the DCEU before. While previous movies like Batman v. Superman have explored a visually dark and brooding tone in comparison to a movie like Aquaman, lit up by its colorful, life-filling world, Black Adam tries to balance between both ends of the spectrum in terms of what it can present. From Teth-Adam’s perspective, there is a tonal shade of grounded-ness similar to Man of Steel mixed with the echoes of mysticism we were used to from the reality of Shazam! From the Justice Society’s perspective, this mysticism is mixed with the bright colors and energy of Atom Smasher and Cyclone along with the matureness from Doctor Fate and Hawkman. Every super-powered character in this movie gets to showcase those great visuals, especially Cyclone and Doctor Fate (the final battle is really great!) as they get to present their powers in an eye-catching way.
The action also continues to be a positive aspect of this movie even if the CGI on some of the characters and fight scenes feel a bit obvious and unimpactful. Now knowing that Black Adam wanted to go deeper into an R-rating instead of PG-13, it looks like the movie wanted to do more in terms of gruesome action a la Zack Snyder’s Justice League. However, the action that we do get here certainly has that rush of adrenaline that makes Black Adam its own and from what I’ve seen from the movie and trailers (as seen with the fight with the mercenaries), it utilizes what it can do under the rating successfully. The fights between Black Adam, the Justice Society, and Intergang range from being more power-focused and a little character-driven to having a cynical snarkiness that downplays the situation, but the power behind each blow and attack drives that electrifying energy from each scene to a higher level.
In terms of the characters, the cast is amazing at the roles that they were given. The Rock managed to capture the supremacy of the character fans have been used to while also being able to showcase Black Adam’s mortality and humanity, even if it felt like his personality and presence were similar in both circumstances. The Justice Society is really interesting as the personalities between the characters, from Hawkman and Doctor Fate to Atom Smasher and Cyclone, both conceptually contrast, yet maintain good chemistry. Hodge provided Hawkman straightforwardness with a prideful confidence while Brosnan provided Fate mature optimism with old wisdom (and bits of comedy), allowing these two characters to stay true to their personalities from the comics and actually keeping me interested to see where they went. Centineo’s charisma and youthfulness mixed with Swindell’s smarts and geekiness was actually interesting to see from these two characters, though it feels like their relationship was sidelined to maintain the pacing of Black Adam’s story. Hopefully, we get to see this play out as well as see the JSA return in the future.
For returning characters, mainstays Viola Davis and Jennifer Holland return as Amanda Waller and Emilia Harcourt respectively. This time, we get to see what they’ve been up to as the story of Task Force X continues to expand through Black Adam. For the overall story, both her and Harcourt are relegated to minor roles, though they both leave their impacts here. Honestly, it was nice to see these two characters return even if we get to see them for a short amount of time and hopefully we’ll learn what they’ve been up to in future movies and series (Peacemaker 2?)
As for the plot itself, it does feel a bit generic in terms of creating what Black Adam is. The story is split around the new age of Black Adam and Intergang’s hunt for the Crown of Sabbac, the MacGuffin which ultimately makes a person the anti-Shazam. The writing of this movie did feel a bit like Shazam! and it did have some moments where it made this clear. Obviously, both Black Adam and Shazam have similar powers and some circumstances in common, but by the middle of the movie I couldn’t stop thinking how some of the interactions between Black Adam and the other characters were exactly like some scenes in Shazam!. You have the big bad wanting mystical powers for their own reasons (see Dr. Sivanna), you have the super-powered hero adapting to his new-found circumstances, and then you have that finale between the big bad and the heroes after the big bad gets the powers they sought. The only difference here is that Black Adam is a more adult movie whereas Shazam! was more kid-oriented. Honestly, if Black Adam diverted away from this story and focused on Black Adam as a more character-driven piece, it would’ve been a much better movie.
Nonetheless, Black Adam is a standout movie for the DCEU that manages to push the story of this universe and The Rock’s dream certainly succeeds in making Black Adam come to life. However, if the character wants to make a lasting impact on the franchise as a whole, it needs to break free of its formulaic direction and hopefully the sequel in-development does so.
Black Adam is in theaters now!