Comic Book Brain

Review Black Adam - 2022

Black Adam hurtles forward with a glowering Dwayne Johnson as the hero who isn't a hero (and the characters tells you so) but all the same has to fill in that role when the chips are down in the perpetually oppressed country of Kahndaq (which in the course of this tale gets beaten up pretty badly, like Tokyo at the mercy of Godzilla.)

The Justice Society appears (Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Atom Smasher and Cyclone) and various contretemps follow between not just Black Adam and this very American team operating in a foreign land but within the team itself.

Humour is dished up more often than a needed sense of pathos, which is too bad because the cast seems game for it and that would've balanced things better not just in representing the team and what happens to them, but in reinforcing the character of Black Adam himself.

Not enough time is put into explaining the Justice Society, they arrive with a fully formed history behind them but it just isn't shared with the audience sufficiently. The movie is trying to concentrate on Black Adam and to create the complexity of a fully-fleshed character, but this isn't really completed before the necessity of overcoming the villains becomes more important and as the cast of characters expands there just isn't enough room in how this movie is constructed using its 2 hour, 4 minute runtime to let us know these people well. For example Pierce Brosnan (as Dr. Fate) just isn't utilized enough as an actor, nor given enough dialogue to help flesh out the film, he's on the screen but it slips by too fast.

Perhaps a cleverly written sequel can fix all this, which is my charitable view of the story craftsmanship problems in Black Adam that need polishing*. Like the first Suicide Squad movie, which also had garbled storytelling, Black Adam is all the same a likeable movie. Simply put, the film makes it easy to complain about too much extraneous CGI action (there's a lot!) cutting into too little of story with characters we'd like to have around more.

Wizards and gods

There is an interesting aspect of the film which flows directly out of the original comic book series premise. When Black Adam sees the superheroes of the Justice Society in operation in this film, he declares them to be wizards, something he is familiar by sort've time-traveling from an ancient era where the people were in relationship to the Egyptian gods and the occult powers of that culture. In a way this film, and the Shazam movie from 2018, do something many superhero movies shy away from, which is pinpointing a source for where a super-power is coming from, in this case ancient pre-Christian dieties.

But at the same time, Kahndaq looks to be a Muslim majority country and when we look out over the skyline, there's nary a minaret in sight, which would have been a minimal nod to reality. Like the corporation-owned "the Force" faith of the Star Wars movies, Hollywood has adopted comic book superheroes and though it can on one hand present the technological and pharmaceutical powers of Captain America, Iron Man and Batman, etc., as basically the ability to harness "real" powers most 21st century people recognize, but then on the other hand Hollywood has embraced the ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods as an explanation for superpowers, and whether this is because these ancient myths are public domain "properties" or because Hollywood simply likes the mysterious ambiguity and caprices of these ancient devils is a whole other question.

Black Adam doesn't delve too deeply into this at all. Black Adam flies because superheroes can fly when anointed to do so by a league of wizards (and that's what the Shazam stories have as a front office for distribution of powers) and whether that means the ancient deities are kaput but their powers were obtained by this wizardry council in some bizarre fire-sale so they could use it for battling evil, I don't know.

Dwayne Johnson scowls a lot and this helps the character be what he is in this film: a kind of disgruntled spoiler with a guilty conscious (and why he feels that way is properly explained in the movie, something where the filmmakers did a fine job) but who is, whether from whim or some sense of moral obligation, is neither the villain nor a paragon of virtue, doesn't really get too much exploration. In the latter case, Henry Cavill shows up in a very brief story denouement and this sets up what are the presumed first steps for a franchise of sequels (and also creates a clearcut visual in which Black Adam may be heroic and do good guy stuff, but up against DC's exemplar of absolute goodness - Superman - Black Adam would still have some credibility as a bad guy, at least by comparison).

*Box Office for Black Adam at $389,642,000 worldwide as of Dec 17, 2022, makes a sequel unlikely.

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Original Page November 2022 | Updated Dec 17, 2022