“Black Adam,” a Dwayne Johnson vehicle and sort-of spinoff to 2019’s “Shazam,” never really looked that great. The final product isn’t a complete disaster, but is fundamentally flawed by a bizarre thesis statement — that Johnson’s titular character is the coolest, strongest and best hero in any cinematic universe, because unlike the other guys, Adam does murders.
The film follows the titular character, played by Johnson. Like “Shazam,” in a moment of desperate need a young boy is brought before a council of wizards, who bestow upon him both incredible power and the ability to shapeshift into a grown man, he just needs to speak the magic word.
Black Adam got his powers around 3,000 B.C., but disappeared after slaying an oppressive king. He resurfaces in the modern day, with his country once again oppressed by a new military force, and starts a murderous rampage that catches the attention of the United States government. By the end of the film, he fights an actual demon from hell with red skin and black horns.
The action, plot and computer-generated final battle feel like relics of a bygone age. Maybe they really are, since Johnson has been talking about playing Black Adam since 2007.
Driven seemingly in part by Johnson’s ego, this is yet another miss for the floundering DC Extended Universe, though it’s tough to shake the feeling that it really didn’t need to be.
When Johnson isn’t brooding or insisting that he’s a killer, his on-screen charisma is infectious — when Black Adam cracks a joke, the malaise is lifted, if only for a second. These moments are almost entirely out of place in the film; they feel in spite of the rest of the movie, like the filmmakers failed to cover up these cracks in the facade.
The rest of the cast, too, is largely pretty fun — especially the newly introduced Justice Society. Aldis Hodge plays Hawkman like an exasperated dad, Pierce Brosnan is delightfully weird as the sorcerer-like Doctor Fate, and Noah Centineo and Quintessa Swindel shine as two inexperienced teen heroes with a budding romance.
There are strong themes at play, with interesting things to say about the cultural diversity of superheroes, imperialism and the power of community.
The pieces are all here for a fun popcorn flick, if not something even more substantial.
Instead of having fun with the strong cast or those interesting themes, the film spends more than two hours talking about how strong and ruthless Black Adam is, with countless action scenes designed simply to give Johnson’s anti-hero an opportunity to kill someone and make himself look edgier than the team of heroes he’s working alongside.
“Heroes don’t kill people,” Hawkman, played by Aldis Hodge, tells Black Adam in one action scene.
“Well I do,” Black Adam responds.
I’d like to think we can do better.
Fundamentally, Black Adam — like any other contemporary superhero — needs to be so much more than a strong guy who kills people and sometimes smiles at children.
What this film lacks the most is a real reason to get out and see it. This movie is so aggressively fine, ultimately little more than a bland and somehow already dated superhero film. It’s also the latest example of the DCEU fruitlessly spinning its wheels, fortunate to be released at a time when audiences have been largely underserved. It will be quickly forgotten as we enter a very busy holiday season.
“Black Adam” will be playing at both Kenai Cinema and the Orca Theater this weekend. Check showtimes and purchase tickets at catheaters.com or orcatheater.com.
Reach reporter Jake Dye at firstname.lastname@example.org.