There was a time when superhero films were the exception. They were new, exciting, and at their very best, were playing with genre conventions and doing something unexpected.
Now, we get several superhero films a year, not to mention countless TV shows on various streaming platforms. They’ve become the rule, not the exception, which almost automatically makes them less exciting. At the end of the day, most of them follow the same old formula of a hero’s journey; they struggle with their powers and encounter a powerful enemy that nearly defeats them until ultimately tapping into something more profound to save the day. Ta-dah!
Jaume Collet-Serra’s Black Adam, on the surface, tries to offer something different. It’s been a passion project for its star, Dwayne Johnson, who promised that the anti-hero’s arrival would ‘change the hierarchy of DC’. Unfortunately, Black Adam succumbs to the genre’s worst tropes and isn’t aided by the baffling, near-incompetent editing.
The story takes place in the fictional land of Kahndaq. After a brief prologue that explains how Teth Adam (he’s not called Black Adam yet, but patience, dear reader) was born, the action moves to modern days. Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) is looking for a mystical crown that once divided the people and is incredibly dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands.
Adrianna manages to awaken Teth Adam from his slumber, but boy, is he pissed. Teth Adam has no problem killing anyone and everyone in his way, which sends the Justice Society – Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Atom Smasher and Cyclone – to Kahndaq, where they clash with Teth Adam. Obviously.
First things first, there is a lot to like in Black Adam. Dwayne Johnson is impossibly likeable and has a magnetic screen presence. Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate and Aldis Hodge as Hawkman are also compelling, especially Brosnan, who brings a sense of esteemed and renowned dignity into the film.
But Black Adam feels incomplete; it’s rushed, narratively messy and badly edited. Director Jaume Collet-Serra struggles to find the right balance of tone and story beats to focus on and Black Adam often feels like one continuous action sequence and that’s not a compliment. The action, too reliant on CGI, tries to imply violence without fully committing to it.
Black Adam has been posed as a more violent, darker entry into the post-Zack Snyder DCEU, but if anything, this feels like a return to Snyder’s style of filmmaking. There’s his signature religious imagery, a lot of the action is played in slow-motion, and the greyish colour palette, meant to evoke angst and seriousness, comes across as dull. Visually, Black Adam might be one of the ugliest films of 2022.
What makes it even more frustrating is the infinite amount of potential the film has. Black Adam’s best scene is when Adrianna tells the Justice Society off for storming into her homeland and kicking up a fuss now that Teth Adam is causing havoc, but they haven’t done anything in the past 27 years that the country has been in conflict.
It would have been a meaty angle to write your film from, but it’s quickly abandoned. Collet-Serra, an outstanding director when working with the right material, struggles to let his style bleed through, but there are some strong individual moments here. More than anything, Black Adam seems to just set up the future of the DCEU, but I must say, it doesn’t look very good.
Black Adam is in cinemas now.