Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Written by Alexander Reams
“The hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change.”
Dwayne Johnson has been quoting this promo line like scripture since “Black Adam” was confirmed. It spawned countless memes and roasts since. These sound like half-hearted lines that you would say if you were desperate, which incidentally, Warner Bros is. The last few outings of the DCEU received critical praise for the breath of fresh air they brought the franchise, “Birds of Prey” being a demented comedy, “The Suicide Squad” being Gunn’s (who rarely makes a bad movie) audition for the greater DC, but the box office returns were lukewarm. They need a hit, so who else to call than one of the most bankable box office stars today who is a guaranteed hit for them. “desperate times call for desperate measures” is in full effect in DC and it is evident by the fast-tracking of “Black Adam” which ultimately spelled its downfall.
As most readers know by now, I am a huge comic book fan, and I usually skew toward DC, so when I heard that a film based on one of the most badass characters in their rogue’s gallery would be one of their next projects excited me, and when the cast and crew were announced that anticipation and eagerness to see the Man in Black rose. Pierce Brosnan as the legendary Doctor Fate, Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone (also in Paul Schrader’s “Master Gardener”), and Aldis Hodge as Hawkman join Johnson, who portrays the titular character. This grouping looks great on paper, and it does translate well on screen. The only groans come when Noah Centineo is on screen almost ruining Atom Smasher with his half-hearted dialogue delivery and aloof attitude that doesn’t fit with the rest of the team.
Johnson is not only supported by a good team in front of the camera but behind, bringing his previous collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra from “Jungle Cruise” onto the project, Lawrence Sher from “Joker” as the DP, Lorne Balfe scoring the film, to name a few. Balfe excels at creating an ominous and appropriate theme for “Black Adam” and choosing some great hype music for the exhilarating action sequences. Sher doesn’t get nearly as creative as he was in “Joker” but the style of wides during the action and having a fluid camera somewhat fit the film, though that work is largely soured by the CGI.
The CGI isn’t where the drawbacks end either, “Black Adam” spent a long time in development hell, and it’s most evident in its script, containing preachy messages that feel like the square peg being pushed into the circle hole, instead of being thoughtfully woven within the overall narrative, unnecessary dumps of exposition (mostly dealt to Doctor Fate but Brosnan sells it just enough to get by), and saying Centineo’s acting leaves much to be desired would be an understatement. Involving the Justice Society of America was a great way to introduce more characters to the future of the DCEU, bub this is a Black Adam movie first and foremost, and the movie seems to forget that going long stretches without our titular anti-hero and focusing on the people of Khandiq (the fictional nation this takes place in). The script failed the villain more than the heroes, reduced to a CGI devil that looks like it came from early “Mortal Kombat” games. Marwan Kenzari does his best but falls short.
The fight sequences set in this town lead to some of the more inventive set pieces in the DCEU. The camera is more fluid but lacks the shakiness of handheld cinematography. The quick cuts are not as pervasive and it shows off the commitment of everyone, displaying Johnson and co. as the ones who did the stunts. Along with the stunt team, and using each player’s abilities to make the fights inventive, most notably with Hawkman and Doctor Fate. Displaying the majesty and smoothness of Hawkman’s fighting style from one villain to the next, and Fate’s ability to mess with the mind and not be a Doctor Strange ripoff.
Thankfully the character of Adam is not watered down to fit the standard hero arc that many anti-heroes became in their feature adaptations. He is still ruthless in his fighting, brutal in his threats, and at times darkly comedic, thanks to Johnson giving one of his best turns yet. There was a reason for him being the fancast for all these years and it paid off, it makes “Black Adam” a borderline fun time, but it’s far from the heights of the DCEU’s finest (i.e. “The Suicide Squad,” “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” “Batman V. Superman (Ultimate Edition)).” The script’s issues with rushed exposition, character development, lack of focus, and CGI flaws consistently took me out of the film and soured “Black Adam” long before the credits rolled.
“Black Adam” Trailer
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