“Black Adam” Review: Dwayne Johnson’s Savage Antihero Can’t Save DC’s Latest

It’s not a total disaster, but Marvel won’t lose any sleep over this one.
408

For a movie that has been in development for nearly a decade, Black Adam could’ve used some more time in the DC Films laboratory, as the script — like so many comic book movies—is once again an afterthought. It’s simply amazing to me how much money studios spend on these superhero tentpoles without taking the time to get the screenplay right. Though this one is credited to Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, the blame falls squarely on the hulking shoulders of Black Adam himself, Dwayne Johnson.

Though Johnson didn’t direct Black Adam—that would be his Jungle Cruise helmer Jaume Collet-Serra, who was much more interesting before he sold outhe did produce the movie, and you can safely bet that he signed off on every single major creative decision, including, apparently, its lackluster villain. Outside of the Batman franchise, DC has long had a villain problem, and this movie is no different. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Black Adam casts Johnson as Teth Adam, an ancient, indestructible hero who protects the fictional nation of Kahndaq, which is located somewhere in the Middle East. Teth Adam has his own brand of justice that’s far different than other DC heroes, as he’s not afraid to kill people. (Anti-hero alert!) In fact, he seems to get off on it.

The film begins with an exposition-filled prologue that introduces a powerful mineral known as Eternium and recalls Zack Snyder’s 300 in its bombastic visual style. The people of Kahndaq have been enslaved for thousands of years to mine this precious metal, and in the modern day, a man named Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari) seeks to liberate his people from a group of white mercenaries known as Intergang, all while a group of local rebels (led by Sarah Shahi) searches for a crown made of Eternium. When they eventually find it, they unleash Teth Adam, who has been imprisoned for centuries, much like a genie in a lamp.

Black Adam Hawkman
Image via Warner Bros. Discovery

Black Adam Hawkman

Once he’s freed, the film’s second most important order of business (besides making Johnson look badass) is introducing an eclectic group of crimefighters the Justice Society of America, aka the JSA, even though the “America” part is never uttered in this film. Because who knows how audiences overseas feel about America!

The JSA is considered a big deal in DC Comics lore but the group is only half-successful here, however, as Black Adam constantly overshadows them. Aldis Hodge (City on a Hill) gives it his all as the team’s relentless leader, Hawkman, and Pierce Brosnan lends the film a welcome veteran presence as Doctor Fate, who can see into the future (not that it seems to help much), but Quintessa Swindell is thoroughly wasted as Cyclone (the design of this character and her powers is pretty weak) and Noah Centineo fails to deliver much as Atom Smasher beyond goofy comic relief.

As for Johnson, he’s fine as Black Adam but the role robs him of his natural charisma, as the character is much closer to the Terminator than, say, Smolder Bravestone. This poses a real problem because the film reduces Johnson to a mountain of muscles rather than a hero with a personality, which is kind of his strength as an actor. Here, he looks dour and rather joyless.

Black Adam Doctor Fate
Image via Warner Bros. Discovery

Black Adam Doctor Fate

There’s also a teenage boy in the mix (because of course there is) who reads comics and idolizes Black Adam while navigating Kahndaq on a skateboard. I understand why these types of characters are frequently shoehorned into comic book movies — so kids can “see themselves” in the material — but every minute this kid is onscreen is thoroughly excruciating. It’d be one thing if the kid was a natural-born star, but he just doesn’t have that “It” factor.

Fortunately, the action in Black Adam is non-stop, and to be honest, it’s pretty good, as cinematographer Lawrence Sher (Joker) comes up with some very cool shots, particularly when Johnson is hulking out. The problem is that there’s no weight to any of this stuff. Though the film’s VFX budget is clearly up there on the screen, nothing feels particularly real. And why every DC movie must devolve into a glowing light show is completely beyond me. Did you see any glowing lights in The Dark Knight or Logan or The Crow? No, you didn’t. If I showed you photos of all the glowing lights in the DCEU, you’d have a hard time identifying which movie they were from, trust me.

As for the much-discussed mid-credits sequence featuring another DC superhero, it’s a lame tease that’s hardly worth waiting for. In fact, I’m sure you can already find it on YouTube if you’re that curious about it. If that’s the reason to see Black Adam — and Johnson’s recent interviews seem to suggest this “super” cameo is the film’s strongest selling point besides himself — then it only emphasizes my point that this film is nothing more than a two-hour trailer for another movie that will pit Black Adam against you-know-who. Is this the epic battle the DCEU has been building toward? If so, who cares? Watching two indestructible forces go at it, destroying CG buildings if not entire cities as they trade blows, simply isn’t all that interesting, no matter how many 12-year-old boys think it’s “cool.”

But we’re a few years away from that promised showdown. In the meantime, if I never hear someone yell “Shazam!” again, it’ll be too soon…

Grade: C-

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.