‘Black Adam’ Review: Dwayne Johnson’s Long-Awaited DC Project Is Best Without Him

out of 5

The story of Black Adam‘s decade-long journey to the big screen is an interesting tale, for sure. Warner Bros. wanted a comic book vehicle for mega-star Dwayne Johnson, and for a star that big, not any old superhero would do. Instead of risking the ire of fans by casting Johnson as Superman or Batman, the powers that be dipped into the deeper part of the well of DC characters and pulled out Shazam foe Black Adam. The problem was, Adam was not a hero — he was far from it. So, for more than 10 years, DC fans have waited to see just how Warner Bros. — which went through a company sale to Discovery in that time — could pull it off. Would audiences buy Johnson’s heroic persona in the body of one of DC’s most powerful villains? Or did producers have something else in mind?

Black Adam is finally in theaters, and the questions have been answered, for good or bad. And the bad is because of Dwayne Johnson himself.

In Black Adam, Dwayne Johnson stars as The Rock, his long-time WWE wrestling persona, since he seemingly has no other ability to create interesting characters and always seems to devolve into the same hyper-macho archetype. Johnson just completely disregards the character’s middle eastern origins to present an angry American football-player-turned-wrestler-turned-action star. The lack of any attempts of creating a unique 5,000-year-old middle eastern character is the shaky foundation that the rest of Black Adam is built on.

Black Adam Adam meets Hawkman

But — thankfully — it doesn’t sink the film, as the rest of the cast and the story pick up the slack and help create one of the best DC Extended Universe (DCEU) films, without the aid of miscast Johnson.

Black Adam is the story of Kahndaq, a fictional city in the middle east. Five-thousand years ago, it was a paradise on Earth, that sat on deposits of a rare mineral called Eternium. A Kahndaqi king, Anh-Kot, used the citizens as slaves to mine for Eternium so he could, in turn, create a special crown imbued with the power of seven demons so that he could rule all of Earth. When the mad king’s troops try and murder a young slave who yearns for freedom, the boy is then saved by the council of wizards who bestow upon him the power of Shazam, and he returns to Kahndaq, destroys the Anh-Kot, and frees his people.

Now, 5,000 years later, Kahndaq is an occupied nation once again, this time by the international syndicate Intergang. A beautiful archaeologist and resistance member, Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), and her brother, Karim (Mohammed Amer), and son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) are seeking the lost Crown of Sabbac to help drive Intergang out of the country. They find the crown with the help of another resistance fighter, Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari), and then discover so much more when Intergang finds them. Desperate to escape, Adrianna translates an ancient text and releases the legendary protector of Kahndaq, Teth-Adam (Johnson), who then brings the literal smackdown on Intergang.

Teth-Adam’s actions alert Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who then recruits the Justice Society of America led by Carter Hall/Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) to apprehend the all-powerful being. Hawkman then recruits his old friend Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and two younger members, Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and original member Atom Smasher’s nephew (Noah Centineo) to fly to Kahndaq and arrest Teth-Adam before he can do more damage.

It’s at this point that Black Adam becomes a JSA movie through and through, and Dwayne Johnson’s questionable acting takes a back seat to intense action scenes, superhero battles, more superhero battles, even more superhero battles, and then the rest of the film’s plot. To call it insanity would insult mental illness. Black Adam goes completely off rails — and it is glorious! The plot takes a few twists and turns which actually brings it in line with the comic origins, and by the end of the second act, I was just enjoying the ride.

Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman is near perfect. Hawkman is and always will be my favorite DC hero, and I reserved judgement on Hodge’s casting until the final product — and he absolutely delivers. He carries himself as one of DC’s biggest badasses, and I was just floored. Plus, when he was in the Nth metal suit, he wore his winged helmet for a majority of the time. Marvel couldn’t even do that with Thor. Hawkman’s story is so interesting, and Hodge could easily get his own solo film after this and I am super confident that he would absolutely deliver again. He’s that great in this role.

And as good as Hodge was as Hawkman, Pierce Brosnan might be better as Doctor Fate. Brosnan brings a sense of class to the all the comic book destruction, and Fate’s power to see the future leaves a pall over the film as a hero is fated to die, and the JSA has to not only stop Teth-Adam, but do so while defying that fate. Doctor Fate’s costume and helmet were both amazingly accurate.

The other two JSA members, Atom Smasher and Cyclone, are there for comic relief (Smasher) and a colorful, youthful presence (Cyclone), but neither is given much to do otherwise.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Jungle Cruise) once again works with Dwayne Johnson, and this time delivers a fun ride in spite of his lead. The effects-heavy battles around Kahndaq are intense, and Collet-Serra known when to pull the action down for the more human moments, juggling both better than he has in previous projects.

The script by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani does a great job of presenting each character and dips into their deeper motivations. There are a few running gags, like Amon trying to teach Adam how to be a hero (for which he denies the title — with reason), including coming up and delivering a catchphrase. These moments provide humor when needed, especially during the mind-bending third act when the script throws everything at the heroes — and the audience — and the stakes just keep rising.

Black Adam is far from a perfect film, but it is a blast to watch — especially in a theater. The action is intense, the characters (aside from the titular Adam) are all spot on, and it showcases one of DC’s oldest teams (The JSA even predates the Justice League!). Collectively — and despite Dwayne Johnson’s performance — the cast, the director, and the screenwriters have delivered one of the best DCEU films, and I can’t wait to watch it again to really absorb all the nuances of the story and the amazing performances (not you, Johnson).

Black Adam is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.

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