REVIEW: “Black Adam” (2022)

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe veers off in countless strange and indulgent directions, the DC Extended Universe sits suffering from a glaring identity crisis. What exactly is the DCEU? Who’s running the DC ship? Is there a roadmap? Which movies and what characters are a part of it? There was a time when I could answer those questions, but not these days. It’s all so convoluted and confusing, which is frustrating considering the iconic characters in their catalog.

Zack Snyder had a well defined blueprint he was following. Unfortunately, his vision was “too dark”, “too gloomy”, and “too serious” for many who cut their teeth on the MCU. That, along with the Joss Whedon debacle and a considerable amount of studio meddling, insured that Snyder’s vision would never be fulfilled. So here we are, still wondering where they go from here. Sure, DC Films has put out some incredible movies (“The Batman”, “Joker”, etc.) that aren’t connected to their extended universe. But what about the DCEU?

Enter Dwayne Johnson and “Black Adam”, a pairing that attempts to bring balance and (more importantly) direction to the DCEU. The engrossing superhero epic “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” aside, “Black Adam” is the first DCEU film since 2018’s “Aquaman” that genuinely feels a part of something bigger. I’m not knocking smaller and more individual projects, but a sprawling universe needs interconnectivity and continuity. With “Black Adam”, it looks like the DCEU is finally ready to deliver that once again.

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the film’s biggest strengths was also one of its biggest question marks – Dwayne Johnson. The wrestler turned movie star brings loads of influence and notoriety to whatever film he’s in. But he also has a truly larger-than-life personality which begs the question: would we be able to see beyond Dwayne Johnson to see Black Adam? The answer turns out to be a resounding “Yes”, and it’s in large part due to Johnson himself who gives a lights-out performance. He’s surprisingly restrained, intense and menacing, and slyly funny in some good moments of levity.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by the trio of Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, “Black Adam” quite intentionally avoids heavy exposition within its origin story framework. The most we get comes in a prologue where we’re taken back to 2600 BC. In the country of Kahndaq, a despot named Anh-Kot enslaves his own people, forcing them to mine for a mysterious metal called Eternium. The corrupt king wants the metal to forge the powerful Crown of Sabbac, but the people revolt. Legend says a champion named Teth-Adam was granted the power of Shazam which he used to kill Anh-Kot and free Kahndaq.

In the present day, Kahndaq is oppressed by a high-tech organized crime syndicate called Intergang who are seeking the location of Crown of Sabbac. Knowing the dangers if Intergang gets its hand on the Crown, archaeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) tracks the artifact to a secret chamber deep in a mountain. It also happens to be the tomb of Teth-Adam. When she and her team are ambushed by a squad of Intergang soldiers, Adrianna recites an inscription that summons Teth-Adam himself (Johnson), an incredibly powerful being who immediately slaughters all of the Intergang soldiers.

With Adam’s arrival, the people of Kahndaq believe they have finally found their champion. But his powerful presence is discovered by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a ruthless government official who dispatches the Justice Society of America to apprehend him. With a team consisting of the Nth metal empowered Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), a master sorcerer Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), the wind controlling Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), who can grow enormous heights by manipulating his molecular structure, the JSA set out for Kahndaq.

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

A big chunk of the movie operates within an interesting moral gray space as it wrestles with the questions: is Adam the hero longed for by the people of Kahndaq, or is he a dangerous villain who needs to be taken into custody? They’re questions that shape the very battles between the JSA and Adam as well as their inevitable team-up later on, once a more sinister threat arises. The movie offers no easy answers. Adam’s willingness to brutally kill his enemies clearly poses a problem for the JSA who are much more by-the-book. But where were the JSA and earth’s other heroes during Kahndaq’s centuries of oppression? This opens up some of the film’s deeper themes. And things only get more complicated as facts of Adam’s past come to light.

All of that makes for the kind of compelling dynamic that superhero movies rarely engage these days. But make no mistake, this is a popcorn genre film through-and-through. “Black Adam” is the epitome of ‘action-packed’ with Collet-Serra putting together several terrific set pieces. Every character gets their moment to shine, with Hodge’s Hawkman and Brosnan’s Dr. Fate making intriguing new additions. But this is Black Adam’s show. Johnson energizes things with his magnetic antihero grit and gnarly kills which push the PG-13 rating, yet are still very much in tune with his character.

In its noble effort to avoid the usual origin story trappings, “Black Adam” bypasses a lot of meaningful backstory, leaving us with a few too many questions. I was hungry to know about the Justice Society, and what is Waller’s connection to them? That said, “Black Adam” does a admirable job introducing new pieces and charting new courses for the DCEU, all within a mostly self-contained story. Obviously those quick to roll their eyes at franchise-building or DCEU movies in general will find plenty to nitpick. But “Black Adam” accomplishes everything it needs to. It offers big action and cracking new characters. It puts its own unique stamp on the superhero origin story. And it sets the DCEU on an exciting new trajectory. “Black Adam” is now showing in theaters.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

40 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Black Adam” (2022)

  1. I liked it. I admittedly grade DC movies “on a curve” because they are…well…DC movies. It’s a big win for Dwayne and for them. I did think the character intros were a shade clumsy and could have been better done, but it features non-stop action thereafter, a little bit of humor, and a genuine interest in what comes next. Glad you enjoyed it, and I hope everyone gets out to see it in theatres if they can.

    • Really glad to hear you enjoyed it too. I’m a bit frustrated at the thrashing it has received from fellow critics. It’s not without problems, but I think it’s far better than how it’s portrayed. It’s interesting to see how high the audience score is. Hardly a reliable measuring stick, but in this case I think it fits.

  2. I’ll wait for it on HBO Max or something though I’m not really interested since I think the Crock has become nothing more than a bland and gullible bitch who refuses to take risks as an actor and play it safe. It’s time for the Tribal Chief to make the Crock acknowledge him dammit!!!!! It’s also time for the Crock to do the job for the honorary Uce in Sami Zayn. I love him as my honorable Uce.

  3. Yeah man, what the hell is going on with the Tomatometer with this one? I’ve seen a couple of movies have this kind of reaction before but they’re mostly art films where it’s usually the inverse — high 80s/90s critic side and low 40s (or worse) on the audience side. This one is wild. It actually makes me want to see it more, despite my superhero fatigue

    • It’s crazy man. I’m not sure what fellow critics were looking for, but you could sense this was going to happen even before the first screenings. It’s crazy.

      I 100% believe Black Adam isn’t for everyone. But it’s completely honest about what it is. It doesn’t overthink things. It sets up some really cool possibilities for the DCEU going forward. It has some cracking new characters.

      And it also touches on some surprisingly rich themes such as colonialism, foreign intervention (or the lack there of), and the questionable definition of a “hero”. Nothing deep, but in a way that very few of these superhero movies do. I dunno. I had a really good time with it.

  4. I’ve been pouring through critic reviews trying to understand why Black Adam is getting harsh reviews whereas other superhero films have comparatively light on criticism in its reviews. It’s annoyingly bias to me. I understand this protagonist and style of movie might lend itself to disliking the film. But it just feels like critics were shockingly lazy in their analysis of the film. You’re the 1st critic out of 12 that I found that were positive about Black Adam but also pointed out its flaws as well. This review felt more balanced than the negative reviews I read.

    • Thanks for that. I try to be fair but always honest. I’ll say this, I really don’t understand the disdain and dismissal from fellow critics. I get it not being for everyone, but this is far from a “bad movie”. And when I look at some of the other superhero movies/television shows that has gotten wildly positive marks, all I can do is shake my head.

  5. I am also surprised that Dwayne Johnson is starring in this movie. I bet his character is very different than his portrayal of Maui in “Moana.”

  6. I am also surprised that Dwayne John is starring in this movie. I bet his character is very different than his portrayal of Maui in “Moana.”

  7. G’day it’s Steven from Down Under

    We’ve watched it once and planning to watch it a second time.

    There’s something very dubious about most of the so called “critics” reviews, they’re way off compared to the audience scores.

    • Hey Steven, thanks for reading. I’m definitely at odds with the majority of fellow critics on this one. And to be honest, I’m not surprised. Some of the chatter prior to the movie’s release had me wondering if there was some kind of baked-in push-back to the movie. I’m not saying that’s the case, because I certainly have no absolute proof. But it’s far better than the criticism would have you believe. I went and watched it a second time just to see. It only reinforced my enjoyment of the film.

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