The Rock’s superhero debut Black Adam sinks like a stone

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Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doesn’t get enough credit for having a real-life superpower. With his staggering natural charisma, he can seemingly will any project into existence, from energy drinks to TV shows to movies. Unfortunately, the ability to make them happen doesn’t ensure they’ll be good. 

At first it appeared Black Adam could be lucky enough to buck that trend; a leading role that screamed built for Johnson, while teaming him with schlock wunderkind Jaume Collet-Serra (whose previous career highlights include The Shallows, Orphan, House of Wax). Unfortunately, the film ends up another DC feature fumble, filled with loud sounds and explosive fury, signifying mediocrity.

Black Adam’s setting, Kahndaq, is one of those comic book countries that can’t catch a break. Formerly under the rule of a tyrannical king, things are no better in the present day. A villainous private military company, Intergang, has ruled the land for years, mining Eternium, a precious mineral said to hold magical properties. Of course, these warlords use it to power grenade rockets and hoverbikes, as you do.

Museum curator Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) is desperate to protect her heritage and keep the eternium-rich Crown of Sabbac (said to contain the powers of six demons) from falling into the wrong hands. When her plan to obtain the crown goes south and she’s cornered in a large tomb, she frees Teth Adam (Johnson) to vanquish her enemies. 

While the title may read Black Adam, a more accurate name would be The Precarious Misadventures of The Justice Society of America vs. Teth Adam: Inability To See Larger Danger In The Distance. Cumbersome? Yes, but also puts the onus on those who get the most attention here. In a rather confusing move, the movie spends way too much time establishing, but never really explaining the existence of the JSA. 

After Teth Adam’s re-emergence, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) contacts Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) to put together a team to contain the meta-human. How they know Teth Adam has awoken from a 5,000-year slumber is never addressed. That’s just the first of dozens of other questions that are also never answered. Why spend time investigating anything when you can watch Adrianna’s son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) bond with Teth Adam while recreating scenes from Terminator 2 and Suburban Commando?

Joining Hawkman on his intrepid quest is sorcerer Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), wind manipulator Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and scientist turned super-suited Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). It’s an unlikely team, especially given Cyclone and Atom Smasher are first-timers, and everyone’s connections to each other seem tenuous at best. We do get minor backstories from Cyclone and Atom Smasher, and even as sketchy as they are, they’re more interesting than anything else in the movie. 

If this is what Johnson and DC believe fans want, it exposes just how rickety the DC cinematic universe really is. Black Adam lacks the gusto, fun, and manic Saturday Morning Cartoon energy that made Aquaman and Shazam! a success, even as it borrows lore and imagery from the latter. Even more adult-directed fare like The Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey worked in part by adapting a gonzo template and tone. Black Adam side steps that, opting for the type of “by-the-numbers” corporate fare that always falters in the face of genuine creativity.

Black Adam isn’t the worst cinematic thing that DC has ever put forth, though it may be the most numbing. Save for a few weird and out-there action sequences, it floats away from the mind after viewing it, like a bad dream. As much as this film may bear the name and face of The Rock, playing a supremely powerful character, in the end everyone—regardless how much they protest—bends their knee before the corporate overlords.

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Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Categories: Movies