‘Black Adam’ Recycles Superior Superhero Beats

Dwayne Johnson brings the muscle, but his DC Comics antihero lacks an identity

Dwayne Johnson has been playing superheroic souls so long that putting him in tights feels redundant.

That means he’s a snug fit for “Black Adam,” a superhero yarn that isn’t sure if the title character is good, bad or somewhere in between.

Except Johnson is always the good guy, the man-mountain tasked with saving the day. Who wants to cast him in a movie where audiences root against him?

It’s just one problem plaguing “Black Adam,” a film brimming with action, the occasional laugh line and an eagerness to replicate previous films … to a mind-numbing fault.

Black Adam - Official Trailer 2

The film opens with a dense prologue, explaining the title character’s origin story. Roughly 5,000 years ago a group of wizards transformed a Middle Eastern man into Teth-Adam (Johnson), a super-powered hero trying to save his native Kahndaq from a power-mad King.

Teth-Adam defeats the cruel King and, for his troubles, is put to sleep for centuries. A scrappy Kahndaq resident(Sarah Shahi) and her equally scrappy son (Bodhi Sabongui) awaken him, and not a moment too soon.

A generic invading force known as Intergang now rules Kahndaq, and Black Adam is the citizens’ best hope of restoring their freedom. Except his emergence grabs the attention of Viola Davis’ cranky Amanda Waller (the character from recent “Suicide Squad” features).

She summons the Justice Society of America, the poor man’s Justice League, to bring the big guy in.

Good luck. Did you see that introductory scene where Johnson’s character wipes out a small army in seconds?


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We spend time watching Society members Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) battle Black Adam while the film’s lackluster villain plots his world domination.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra (“Orphan,” “Jungle Cruise“) leans hard into the story’s CGI necessities. Some filmmakers use those ones and zeroes only as needed, grounding the visuals in terra firma.

Here, every visual relies on CGI trickery, and it’s exhausting.

That’s true of Black Adam’s extraordinary speed as well as how Collet-Serra frames his action sequences. Some prove eye-dazzling, but the overall effect can be monotonous.

“Black Adam” is never dull, though, thanks to near-constant action and a story that doesn’t bog itself down with character development, meaty subplots or other bothersome tropes.

The screenplay teases the imperialist nature of the Kahndaq invaders, but the story zips along without building on that angle. There’s even a smart aside as to why JSA has ignored Kahndaq’s humanitarian plight until now, but that thread goes nowhere.

Atom Smasher and Cyclone share a nice, potentially romantic chemistry, but the chemistry experiment remains in its beakers.

This is superhero storytelling from the pre-MCU era. It’s silly at times, lacking the depth that producer Kevin Feige instilled in Marvel’s DNA.


The film’s most maddeningly element? We’ve seen it all before.

Get your notepad out and notice all the films “Black Adam” brazenly pilfers from, including the “Avengers” saga and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Atom Smasher’s aw, shucks style of superheroism is like Paul Rudd’s Ant Man, but far less appealing.

The repetition is so obvious Johnson should have put his foot down as the film’s star, driving force and producer.

Let’s keep things fresh, folks.

Instead, we get Doctor Fate, whose on-screen heroics are so close to Doctor Strange’s shtick it’s embarrassing, and far inferior. (Yes, Doctor Fate appeared before his MCU doppelgänger in the comics, but we’re talking movies here…)

Kudos to Brosnan for giving his carbon copy character some humanity, but you’re always aware of the superior screen sorcerer.

And Hodge, still one movie away from being an A-lister, conveys the stoicism and strength Chris Evans brought to multiple MCU adventures. His character’s logic, though, could use a makeover.

Still, this is Johnson’s movie, and he doesn’t disappoint in the ways he never does. He’s strong, determined and unstoppable, and when given the film’s few legit laugh lines he makes them count.

His Adam tends to discard foes like so much trash, while the other heroes gently ask him to stop blithely killing anyone who gets in his way. It’s another potentially smart development (a la Ah-nold only shooting his enemies in the knees during “T2”) but it never gains momentum.

The DC Comics film universe still has a ways to go in catching up with prime MCU. Then again, the MCU is a far cry from its glory days, too. From that perspective, “Black Adam” is good enough for a breezy, brain-addled ride, nothing more.

HiT or Miss: “Black Adam” is light, agreeable and instantly forgettable.


  1. I would not disagree with your assessment however with so many dour films these days, so many films with “the message”, I found myself enjoying a movie that was just entertaining. To me that is a plus. 🙂

  2. Interesting take on the film. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie. The trailers seem to indicate the movie gives a comic-accurate portrayal of Black Adam, Doctor Fate, and Hawkman. As for the CGI, if you don’t like it, then you probably shouldn’t watch superhero films.

    Besides (likely) enjoying the film on its own merits, it sets up two future movie events: Superman vs Black Adam, and a JLA / JSA team-up to fight some universe threatening villain. I would thoroughly enjoy both of those scenarios.

  3. Too bad. Another hokey CGI snooze fest. Should have had Denzel hand off the “Equalizer” franchise to The Rock. The hand off intro, Denzel in hospital, can’t help his old lady neighbor, Denzel calls his cousin “Cig” to help him out. Cig can’t but sends his old Army buddy. Denzel looks up from his hospital bed to see the giant’s frame filling the doorway. The Rock: “Cig said you needed some help.” Denzel: “Now THAT’S what I’m talkin bout”. Serious ass whuppin ensues!! Oh well.

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