The Media Man Reviews: Black Adam
This movie was a long time coming for DC fans and especially its star, Dwayne Johnson.
Black Adam stands as the 11th instalment in the DC Extended Universe line of superhero movies and is not just any other DCEU movie. This was a huge passion project from Dwayne Johnson with him expressing over the years how enthusiastic he is about the idea of playing the character in a movie one day and as far back as November 2007, the idea was starting to formulate but ultimately, it would take until this year for Black Adam to finally see the light of day. Needless to say, it feels great for Dwayne that he finally got to make the movie he's wanted to make for so long and now DC fans such as myself get to see him in action as one of Shazam's most iconic enemies.
For those who might not know much about comics, Black Adam is a supervillain/anti-hero from the Shazam line of comics. He's one of Shazam's arch-enemies alongside Dr. Sivanna and Mr. Mind and is also one of the most popular supervillains in the DC Universe thanks to his sympathetic backstory and complex characterization. He has appeared in much DC media, especially the Injustice series of video-games and all related media, the short film Superman/Shazam! The Return of Black Adam and at least one episode of Young Justice. I've had most of my exposure to this guy through those medias so I'm not exactly going into this movie with an expert knowledge of the character, his lore and his history. But I'd say I know enough to follow what we're in for.
So is this a movie that should rule over Khandaq and make it a stronger place to live? Or should Black Adam fry this movie alive with his lightning powers? Let's fly into Black Adam and find out...
Section 1: The Story
Right off the bat, I give the movie props for deciding to give Black Adam his own movie instead of making him a villain in a Shazam! sequel or something, even if I'd love to see this version of Black Adam meet the DCEU Shazam one day. Anyway, the story sees Black Adam awakened in modern times after 5000 years have passed by. In an unfamiliar world and possessing power unmatched by any on Earth, Black Adam seeks to bring his twisted brand of justice to the world and save Khandaq from oppression. Standing in his way are the Justice Society and the Intergang company that have their own nefarious goals in mind...
So how does the story fare up in this superhero flick? For starters, I love this film's take on Black Adam. Despite a 12A rating for the movie, they don't sugar-coat the character in anyway. He's still a brutal, god-tier character with power that very few can match and the film takes advantage of that by showcasing just how ruthless and straight-forward he is with his own idea of "justice". I mean the first thing we see him do is grab a guy by the neck and disintegrate him with lightning! The film even gives us Black Adam's equivalent to a Quicksilver run from the X-Men movies, only it's played completely seriously and brutally instead of for comedy! That is how you portray Black Adam in a movie like this! I'll cover him more in the characters section but to sum up, those who love Black Adam will be very satisfied with his portrayal here.
The film also succeeds at being an entertaining action flick too. The action scenes are the highlight of the story, as we expect in a superhero movie, and they're incredible to watch whether it's Black Adam or the Justice Society in action. The film never gets boring as a result and is a thrill ride from beginning to end with these great action scenes. Also what makes the film entertaining is the comedy. While not a straight-up comedic flick, Black Adam is surprisingly funnier than I expected it to be, even if some of it is dark humour and some of the jokes are around Black Adam being the Comically Serious. While I don't think all the humour works, there are some great gags and funny lines that will have audiences cracking a smile or two throughout. I was even surprised how often I found myself laughing at the movie.
The film's world-building is also interesting and very true to DC Universe lore. Khandaq is depicted as his oppressed country under military control, which is what we expect as Khandaq being oppressed is the driving force behind Teth Adam becoming Black Adam usually in his backstory. We also get some expansions of previous lore in the DCEU with the inclusion of the Justice Society and we get some slight connections to other DCEU movies with the presence of Amanda Waller in a couple of scenes and a cameo that I think not many people expected but will be very happy to see... The world-building is effective in setting up this plot and developing why Black Adam does what he does while also giving us a neat twist regarding who was really Khandaq's champion back in ancient times.
In spite of all these praises I give the movie, it does have a few things holding it back from truly being amazing. To start off, I think some may find the movie pretty standard as far as superhero plots go complete with an all-powerful artefact being the driving force of the movie. Even the fact it's a superhero movie starring a villain isn't all that new as DC already did it twice with two Suicide Squad movies and Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey. We even get our typical climax where it's a big flashy brawl with the hero and the villain at the end which doesn't really do anything that we haven't seen before, but they do make it cool to watch with the powers on display at least.
Second, while I praise the film's world-building, I feel they could've gone a bit further with it. Khandaq's problems should've been forefront and centre in the movie rather than a means to set up the status quo of the movie and the film's philosophies and politics about how good and evil are only points of view is very surface level in how its presented. Discussions like that should be deep and thought-provoking and in a movie like this, it would've worked a lot better.
Also, the pacing of this film is VERY off. There are some scenes that have rapid cuts between shots that weren't all that necessary, the introductions to the Justice Society were really rushed and the film looks like it's about to wrap up at the part where Black Adam allows himself to be imprisoned, but then it keeps going and we get like another half an hour of movie after that. It just felt like the movie should've ended but instead it kept going as if it didn't really know when to properly end. That threw me off so much and I'm sure others may agree on that.
I also feel the movie has a few issues with tone. It's trying to be darker and more violent as is fitting for a character like Black Adam but at the same time, it throws in a lot of comedy and some unfitting music during certain scenes that kinda kills the mood while also putting in stuff that's clearly meant for the younger people in the audience. How do we go from watching Black Adam brutally murder people to discussions with a kid about how he should have a catchphrase? I wouldn't say the movie suffers from Mood Whiplash, but I still think that it should've committed more to being a dark action flick or a superhero comedy instead of trying to do both.
And another issue I feel the movie has is a lack of proper juggling of its pretty sizeable cast. I'll cover this further in the characters section but needless to say, this film could've trimmed the cast a bit if you ask me.
The story has a lot of potential but some dodgy pacing, questionable tone, lack of proper exploration of its themes and oversized cast does hold it back from truly being great in the leagues of Zack Snyder's Justice League, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Still, the story manages to be a solid, entertaining watch in spite of that and it'll satisfy many comic book fans I'm sure....
The film promises us Black Adam and it GIVES us Black Adam!
With the main man himself, Teth Adam/Black Adam (played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), he is the highlight of the movie as this violent superpowered being who has a warped sense of justice thanks to his past life where he's known nothing but rage and pain due to Khandaq's dictatorial past and the loss of his family. Awakening in the modern era, he is truly a fish out of water and he gives us some pretty decent comedy as a result, but the film never turns him into a joke or makes him overly goofy or comical like an MCU movie would've done. His style of humour as the Comically Serious fits him well and his brutal side isn't toned down at all. He still gets some pretty nasty kills in this movie. In spite of that, he clearly has an honourable side to him and while he does terrible things, he isn't necessarily a "bad guy" so to speak, just heavily misguided in his beliefs and sense of justice. Black Adam is the true star of the show and the film delivers a satisfying true-to-text portrayal of the character with Dwayne Johnson effortlessly owning the screen as him. He is fantastic and manages to make Black Adam truly feel like a terrifying force of nature. You can tell he's been dying to play this character for so long and it's so good for him he got his wish at last.
We have our secondary characters Adrianna Tomaz (played by Sarah Shahi) and her son Amon Tomaz (played by Bodhi Sabongui). Adrianna serves mostly as moral support for Black Adam while also being responsible for the Crown of Sabbac being uncovered. I liked Adrianna's role in the story and felt she was well utilized as the moral support for Black Adam and she thankfully never feels like a useless deadweight in the movie. Her son on the other hand was kind of annoying and felt tacked on for whatever reason. He did NOT need to exist here and he's part of the film's tonal issues I mentioned earlier. Like who was demanding Black Adam have essentially a kid-sidekick in this movie? All Amon does is kill the mood or create more problems by making himself a target for the villains so they can use him as leverage against Black Adam. I honestly would've cut him out entirely because he really wasn't necessary.
The Justice Society are here too with the members seen here including Dr. Fate (played by Pierce Brosnan), Hawkman (played by Aldis Hodge), Cyclone (played by Quintessa Swindell) and the Atom Smasher (played by Noah Centineo). Cyclone and Atom Smasher are the most superfluous as they're just kind of there and have no real bearing on the plot other than to fill in the action scenes and Atom Smasher especially feels like they're trying too hard to make him funny to the point he doesn't seem particularly useful. Dr. Fate and Hawkman on the other hand are utilized much better. Hawkman is a total badass and the leader of the team who is clearly close with Dr. Fate and I love how the movie subtly references his comic origins with him stating he "doesn't fear death". Dr. Fate is enjoyable to watch, especially when he's in battle, and he provides some of the movie's more insightful moments with his talk on fate and whether we really have control over it. There are times in the action scenes where it feels like he kinda does nothing for whatever reason and that he should get more involved and I also feel he's not as powerful as he should be but I wouldn't say he was badly handled. Pierce Brosnan's performance was fantastic and I loved watching him every minute he was onscreen.
Although the Society's presence does end up digging up a tonne of questions and showing one of the downsides of being a shared universe. Like where were these guys during other moments in the DCEU like the battle of Metropolis in Man of Steel, the battle with Doomsday in Batman v Superman or especially during Steppenwolf's invasion in Justice League? And where the hell is the Justice League themselves during this movie?! Why aren't they getting involved with Black Adam instead of the Justice Society? Were they too busy partying back home or something?!
It Just Raises Too Many Questions - YouTube
And then we have our villain, Ishmael Gregor (played by Marwan Kenzari). I'll admit, him being a villain caught me by surprise at the beginning but he really has nothing going for him. He's generic as all hell and is the most cookie-cutter antagonist you can imagine. Even when he becomes the villainous Sabbac he just becomes your run-of-the-mill monstrous villain the heroes have to defeat. One thing I'll give this movie is that Marwan Kenzari gives a much better performance here than he did in the abysmal Aladdin remake but it's still nothing special. Also this character's existence feels like wasted potential to me. Why does Black Adam need a villain when Black Adam himself is already enough of an antagonistic force. Leave him out entirely and just make the conflict of the movie the Justice Society vs. Black Adam and there you have it, a better paced movie with a better use of its characters. But since Black Adam's the "hero" of this film, he needs an enemy to face and someone worse than him so we can root for him so here we are.
We also have Adrianna's brother who honestly is just as pointless as Amon is. He really didn't need to exist.
As I said, the film doesn't quite juggle its cast all that well. We have two members of the Justice Society who are shafter in favour of the other two and at least two characters who you could've dropped and missed nothing. But we're here to see Black Adam in action and the film delivers on that with flying colours. I also think that many superhero fans might just be glad to see the more obscure DC heroes in action here so there's something for everyone at least...
Section 3: The Cinematography
Superhero movies tend to be visually stunning to watch and Black Adam is no exception to this.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra really gives us one hell of a spectacle to watch with this film with how it's filmed and put together. First of all, the world of Khandaq looks great in this film with the flashbacks depicting it as this Middle Eastern establishment with a lot of sand around and the modern era depicting it as a Middle Eastern city like what you might see in Egypt or somewhere like that. They chose the perfect locations to bring the fictional world of Khandaq into life and they really showcase beautifully how it's a city ruled over by cruel people with the flashbacks showing the people enslaved and forced to work for their tyrannical king and the modern day showing us military men walking around and enforcing law and order everywhere they go. These scenes really set the stage for the movie and give the audience a keen insight into how dire things are in Khandaq and can also put the civilians in an immediately sympathetic plight.
I also like some of the other fictional elements we get like the mansion the Justice Society hang out in that has its own opening garden for its jet to fly out of which felt like something straight out of Thunderbirds and even the jet itself has a cool looking interior that looks like a really awesome set for the actors to play around in. It has this sleek hi-tech look that feels like it could've been created by Apple or something and fits the sci-fi futuristic theme that most tech in superhero media often has. Even the base where Black Adam is taken to be imprisoned in the second half of the movie looks pretty cool and imposing, looking like a lonely place to be locked up in and with it being underwater, it doesn't look easy to escape from. That wide shot showing several other capsules alongside Black Adam does have a lot of sinister implications too. What else have they got in those capsules...?
The costume design is another work of art in this movie. Superhero movies are able to create awesome costumes for the actors to wear and Black Adam excels in that department by giving us costumes that manage to be comic accurate while also looking more realistic. Black Adam's costume is especially something straight out of the comics with the black outfit and huge lightning bolt insignia on his chest but the Justice Society are something else entirely. Dr. Fate especially looks amazing here. They recreated his costume faithfully right down to the helmet design and his blue and gold colour scheme and Pierce looks fantastic whenever he's in the costume. Hawkman, Cyclone and Atom Smasher all look great too with Hawkman's shiny Nth Metal armour and huge wings, Cyclone's colourful costume and the Atom Smasher especially looks like he came straight out of a comic too with the colour scheme of his costume and it being a skin-tight bodysuit. I do find it distracting that the mask looks so similar to Deadpool though. Seriously, every time I see that mask I keep expecting to hear Ryan Reynolds talking! XD
And of course, the action scenes are the highlights of the visuals here. I applaud these filmmakers for somehow managing to still make superhero battles look amazing to watch despite how we've had so many over the years. You'd think they'd look boring and samey after so many superhero movies lately but Black Adam proves you can still make creative looking battles for your superhero movie. They just take full advantage of the superpowers on display here and give us some very cool, creative and fun action scenes. Black Adam is awesome to watch with his various abilities of course and as a departure from the action scenes in Shazam!, Black Adam uses his abilities more brutally and we get to see that the results are not pretty. We also have the Justice Society and their various abilities which are a joy to watch with Hawkman's super strength and flight abilities, Cyclone's colourful wind powers and Atom Smasher's ability to grow in size. But Dr. Fate is the true highlight here with his otherworldly abilities that are beyond mortal comprehension. The scenes with him look trippy as hell and it's quite surreal to watch his powers in action. I can't imagine they were easy to animate but the SFX artists did it amazingly and they deserve a huge pay raise for their work here.
Speaking of the CGI, while it is easy to tell if some things are CGI or not, mainly most of the superpowers on display and especially Sabbac (what is it with Marwan Kenzari and becoming a CGI monster in the climax of a movie? XD) but I wouldn't say the CGI is overly obvious. It's pretty convincing for the most part and the CGI helps to bring these superheroes to life so well during the action scenes. Whether it's Cyclone's wind powers, Dr. Fate's tricky illusions or Black Adam's lightning abilities, the CGI makes these people truly look and feel like super-powered beings and it's so cool to watch.
As great as the cinematography is though, there are a few problems I have with the visuals, though nothing major at least. I feel the editing got a bit too cut happy in places. There's especially one scene with Black Adam talking to Adrianna, her brother and Amon at their house and it feels the need to cut several times from person to person when the scene is just them talking. We don't really need a lot of cuts when it's just people talking guys! And also the film kinda gets a little too carried away with using slow-motion. Sometimes it's OK but sometimes they use it when we don't really need it. And also the soundtrack doesn't always match the mood of what we're seeing. There are some scenes that'll have some cringey rock song or rap song playing in the background and it's just tonally jarring as a result. We don't need this kind of music in a gritty action flick like this and it does the cinematography a great disservice when the music doesn't line up with the visuals.
Still, Black Adam is yet another amazing looking movie from the DCEU and some fine work from its director. It's visually stunning, very exciting to watch and a thrill ride from beginning to end and I'll happily watch it again just to see these epic action scenes and awesome costumes all over again...
Black Adam is a flawed movie but it is by no means bad. The story has issues with pacing, continuity, tone and handling its large cast of characters but it makes up for that with a fantastic portrayal of Black Adam, some great acting, enjoyable characters save for a few, funny humour and incredible cinematography that makes for a very enjoyable watch in spite of its shortcomings. If you're a DC fan like I am and enjoy the DCEU, I would recommend it whole-heartedly. But if you're not, then you might not care much for this film. Black Adam was enjoyable enough for what it was and hopefully he'll be back again in future DCEU movies...
That's all I have for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you to share your opinions down below. Did you like Black Adam, did you not like it? I'd love to hear. Next time, we celebrate Halloween as I count down the Top 10 Villain Songs. See you then everyone!