Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson should really stick to appearing in family friendly comedies instead of trying to smash his way to comic book movie stardom. This massive talent is great when a decent script is given to him. When he can demonstrate he can laugh, cry and be genuine, he shines.
In BLACK ADAM, all that charm we know Johnson for, especially in YOUNG ROCK, isn’t here. His presence is perfect, but for his dialogue, someone must have put him into a pressure cooker, and said, “Look, you gotta be the heel for much of the film and deliver those lines like back when you were performing for the cameras in WWE.”
Because the title card says this movie is all about him, there’s not enough attention to everyone else. I think that’s because Sohrab Noshirvani, Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines wrote this screenplay like it is a Golden Age comic book. The studio can’t assume every movie goer will go read the various comic books released prior to the film that details the back stories of each of the supporting characters, especially when concerning the Justice Society of America.
The only people who are more human are the average joes. On this list is Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), an archaeologist and wannabe Tomb Raider, her son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) who is destined for greater things, and brother Karim (Mohammed Amer). Together, they are searching for the Crown of Sabbac. Much like the One Ring from LORD OF THE RING, whoever possesses it will have superpowers and can control more than a single kingdom.
After realising its ability, Adrianna awakens Adam from his stone coffin. His first impulse is to go on a rampage, but she soothes the savage beast. It’s a familiar concept. But when considering I know all the lore about him and her from the comic books (her name is well known amongst DC Comics readers)–and there’s no hint of them recognizing each other–I was let down. There’s a lot more to them than meets the eye, no matter which continuity the writers were drawing from when penning the screenplay.
Meanwhile, Adam’s awakening is cause for concern in another world. Amanda Waller (from SUICIDE SQUAD) sends Carter Hall aka Hawkman and the Justice Society of America (Kent Nelson / Doctor Fate, Maxine Hunkel / Cyclone, and Al Rothstein / Atom Smasher) to deal with the situation and in true comic book fashion, their first impulse is to fight it out instead of discuss why his re-appearance is disconcerting. While the people of Kahndaq (a fictional Arab city) welcome the return of this demigod, the rest of the world is scared.
Anyone going to see BLACK ADAM expecting love for Hawkman and Doctor Fate–the most well known of the four–will be disappointed. All the former’s backstory is stripped away and for the latter, we know very little of the alien intellect existing within the helmet that Nelson possesses.
This cinematic take does not differ from prior live action interpretations (DC’s LEGENDS OF TOMORROW and SMALLVILLE) by much, but at least for the digital effects artistry, Hawkman looks awesome on screen. Aldis Hodge is imposing once that he’s in full metal armour. Even Pierce Brosnan is slick once in full gear. I’m only sad the filmmakers decided to downplay his “Egyptian” magic. Previous takes often had him manifest a giant sized Ankh when he cast his spells. The studios may have feared backlash for the stereotyping and didn’t make his signature manifestation from the animated series prominent.
As for the other two heroes, Quintessa Swindell is decent as Cyclone, and Noah Centineo manages a few laughs. Atom Smasher is the comic relief in the same vein as THE FLASH from the JUSTICE LEAGUE movie, and those moments are at best, cringe-worthy.
Despite having to follow the mold that defines many comic book movies, the end is at least worthwhile. We see these heroes and anti-heroes shine, and all that effort to realise a comic book panel to screen was worth the investment. We’re watching one huge creative wrestling match in the grandest of World Wrestling Entertainment tradition.
As for what The Rock is cooking up next lies simply in the hope this motion picture will make the money it needs to put this antihero into the DC cinematic universe proper. There’s no need to look up the crazy production history of why it didn’t happen sooner. All we know is that he’s a tragic hero worthy of redemption, and this motion picture is a first step to showing this figure doesn’t have to be bad to the bone. But as for that epic showdown between him and Shazam (Zachary Levi), or that cool cameo mid-credits, that won’t be fast tracked to screens soon. We can expect a three-year wait, at least.
BLACK ADAM is now playing in theatres.
Editor’s note: Jason here. I also checked out BLACK ADAM on opening night and found this to be one of the biggest disappointments of 2022, despite the picture being really, really, really, really ridiculously good looking. Filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra and his cinematographer Lawrence Sher have made such a visually striking movie which is very much an easy job for these two, yet the overall result was a dreary and overlong wall of noise that is all story and no storytelling. Even Dwayne Johnson looks tremendously bored here as our hero and most of the movie is either people standing around explaining things to one another or endless action. If you have NOTHING better to do and have seen every other movie in release I MIGHT suggest checking it out to see it for yourself, but my reaction was pretty much in line with Ed here.
If you want a true superhero movie with a tremendous amount of character and beauty, track down a theatre showing the Indian superhero epic BRAHMASTRA which is pure joy from beginning to end: