Movie review

«Black Adam»? Quickly forgotten

Luca Fontana
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook

«Black Adam» features Dwayne Johnson, thus guaranteeing Hollywood some hefty profits. But otherwise, the film delivers little. Still, it wasn’t quite as awful as it sounds.

First off, my review contains no spoilers. Any information stated here is featured in trailers that have already been released.

«Black Adam» is one of Dwayne Johnson’s passion projects. The former wrestling star had been fighting for a big-screen release since 2007. To be precise, he did this after asking his fans whether he should play the superhero Shazam or supervillain Black Adam in a DC comic book adaptation. His fans chose the latter. Johnson followed through. Relentlessly. Until the «Black Adam» project was finally officially announced in 2017.

It’s all the more unfortunate that the long wait – and Johnson’s insistence with Hollywood studio bosses – didn’t give us a superhero movie worthy of too much attention. The setting is too monotonous. The action too repetitive. And any characters in the film who aren’t Black Adam are just too inconsequential.

What’s «Black Adam» all about?

For 5000 years, Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson), has been dormant. But after being released from his tomb, he no longer recognises the Middle Eastern city of Kahndaq he had once liberated from an evil king and his slave-driving empire. Especially since Kahndaq is once again under siege: this time it’s mercenary groups who exploit the people and their land in search of the most valuable of all raw materials, Eternium.

Black Adam once again goes into battle to bring blind rage and pure destruction upon his enemies. This is exactly what calls the Justice Society into action: an organisation led by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) that uses superheroes to hunt down villains and lock them up, never to emerge. Black Adam’s almost unchallenged powers and immoral methods pose a danger to all mankind.

Shallow entertainment for better or worse

No, «Black Adam» isn’t in the same category as, say, Sony’s unspeakable «Morbius». Measured against that, «Black Adam» is rock solid. Not least because Dwayne Johnson’s action thriller makes things easy for itself and doesn’t expose itself to the same dangers as the vampire debacle.

Morbius, for example, struggles with the moral dilemma of having to drink other people’s blood in order to survive – or resist the urge and die. Black Adam, on the other hand, is simply furious. Always. There are no real dilemmas, even though other characters in the film constantly blather on about Adam being a hero, but also a danger to all mankind and therefore needing to be locked up. As viewers, we never really get to feel this. For the most part, Black Adam simply mows through nameless, anonymous mercenary armies, getting dangerously close to a German FSK-16 rating. That’s fine, according to Hollywood. Mercenaries seem to be the dregs of humanity anyway, who don’t deserve anything better – by the way, this is also a lesson that «Morbius» already wanted to teach us.

Baby’s first moral dilemma: Black Adam is only too happy to burn a bloody hole into the torsos of mercenaries. According to Hollywood, they don’t deserve any better.
Baby’s first moral dilemma: Black Adam is only too happy to burn a bloody hole into the torsos of mercenaries. According to Hollywood, they don’t deserve any better.
Image: Warner Bros. Ent.

You can do it that way, I think. Especially if, from the beginning, Johnson and the makers wanted «Black Adam» to offer nothing more than shallow entertainment that won’t be remembered for a second after leaving the movie theatre. Also because the script never gives Black Adam anything even remotely challenging. Cinematic fast food. Cool in the moment. But no one ponders the squished onion rings or lovelessly stacked patties of a Big Mac any longer than it takes to eat them.

Sick action meets deadly dull sets

Popcorn viewing at its finest. No wonder, the movie is carried by Dwayne Johnson’s massive shoulders and charisma (and neck muscles, my god those things are huge). It’s an entertaining performance. His borderline absurdist brooding constantly reminds me of Vin Diesel’s «Riddick». Go figure. Since the joint sixth «Fast and the Furious» movie, these two literal acting heavyweights are so at odds that they can’t shoot their scenes on set at the same time. If Johnson ever were to say he carried that anger with him onto the «Black Adam» set to better settle into his role, I’ll believe him immediately.

The rest of the cast falls by the wayside. Aldis Hodges’ surly Hawkman, for example. Quintessa Swindell’s playful Cyclone. Or Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher, basically a cheap Deadpool clone at best. Only Pierce Brosnan’s Dr. Fate manages to give his role some gravitas as an ageing superhero. Together, the four form the Spear of Justice Society, arguably something like the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the DC universe, tasked with putting out fires around the world before they degenerate into full-blown infernos.

Pierce Brosnan wore a mo-cap suit on the set of «Black Adam» in order to make Dr. Fate look as crisp possible.
Pierce Brosnan wore a mo-cap suit on the set of «Black Adam» in order to make Dr. Fate look as crisp possible.
Image: Warner Bros. Ent.

In «Black Adam», those four – along with collateral damage in the form of inconsequential and worthless mercenaries – serve as antagonists for Black Adam. Yawn – although, since «Batman v Superman» at the latest, I don’t even get upset about perceived forced conflicts any more (just talk to each other already!) The real problem is a different one anyway: We the viewers don’t yet know the members of the Justice Society. Neither from previous movies or shows. All in line with the motto: first introduce the heroes and their powers, then explain their origins and motivations. As characters, that makes them about as interesting as oatmeal. Tension never arises as a result. Not even for a second. Why should I care about her fate when I’ve only known her for 13 minutes of film?

It doesn’t help that the majority of the film consists of constant CGI destruction without a dot or comma for 124 minutes. Only very rarely does the story take a moment to catch its breath. Not enough for my taste. Especially when there aren’t even any big changes of scenery to go with the action, which starts out rousing but later becomes monotonous and repetitive; the whole film takes place in the run-down streets of Kahndaq, reminiscent of modern-day Cairo. This also contributes to the impression that the film hardly moves from that one spot, neither in terms of content nor visually.

Verdict: Not particularly good, but not particularly bad either

When I think of «Black Adam», I don’t see a film that makes me regret the time I spent with it. Let me be clear here: «Black Adam» has its moments, its successful action passages, its striking one-liners – and above all its Dwayne Johnson. He enhances everything he’s involved in anyway, even if the source material is so hackneyed (and doesn’t take place in a jungle, haha).

On the other hand, «Black Adam» is incredibly monotonous. Both in its action and in its aesthetics. After two hours, I could barely remember which particular scene took place and when. Or which characters I’d like to see again besides Black Adam. «Black Adam» is simply an action one-size-fits-all that doesn’t disappoint, but doesn’t have its own unique flavour either.

Solid, that’s all. No more. No less.

«Black Adam» starts in cinemas on 20 October. Runtime: 124 minutes. Age rating: 12.

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I'm an outdoorsy guy and enjoy sports that push me to the limit – now that’s what I call comfort zone! But I'm also about curling up in an armchair with books about ugly intrigue and sinister kingkillers. Being an avid cinema-goer, I’ve been known to rave about film scores for hours on end. I’ve always wanted to say: «I am Groot.» 

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