The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has some of the most iconic characters in the realm of superheroes.
Yet, Warner Brothers continues to struggle with these legendary justice fighters. With each step forward, this team takes a few steps backward. Shazam! delivered a breath of fresh air into the franchise, and The Batman finally proved that someone else could wear the black suit besides Christian Bale. Then there was the Justice League debacle, and Ezra Miller proved that one man can put the brakes on the fastest man alive. Still, despite COVID delays, there was hope that Dwayne Johnson could take on the Herculean task of lifting this extended universe out of the murky depths with his take on anti-hero, Black Adam.
This superhuman’s history will take audiences back five thousand years to the Middle-eastern-inspired land of Kahndaq. As a slave who took a stand against the tyrannical regime, he was chosen by the wizards behind the legend of Shazam. Yet, the interpretations of his heroic feats were translated differently as the years progressed, and in this modern era, only a few people know how to read the ancient text.
While all of the ancient writings speak of the supposed hero’s tomb being somewhere in the city’s ancient ruins. As the famed city remains under oppressive rule into the future, Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) believes she has the secrets to releasing Teth Adam, the defender of the people of this land. Upon gaining his freedom, The Justice Society of America is sent to contain this potential threat before he causes more chaos around the world.
The originality of this whole project was having a superhero in the Middle East and having a man who could actually fill out the suit convincingly on screen. Dwayne Johnson has been working on getting this project to screens for years, but constant delays and COVID have put this project back repeatedly. Yet, now that it is here, the elements mentioned above are the only innovative offerings of this latest entry in the DCEU.
Jaume Collet-Serra’s film samples from the X-men, Avengers, and even The Mummy deliver a familiar storyline that most viewers should be able to predict each step in the screenplay. Despite having one of the most beloved and recognisable stars in the lead, this production failed to capitalise on the elements that have made Johnson one of the most bankable actors on the planet. Black Adam leans in on the dark and brooding side of this character instead of utilising The Rock’s charisma to make this anti-hero appealing.
Not to forget the ensemble that makes up the Justice Society, who all feel like an afterthought and needed more development for us to care about their existence. Aldis Hodge is convincing as Hawkman and the leader of this mob. Still, as one of the more obscure DC characters, few people may know not be able to differentiate him from Marvel’s Falcon.
Noah Centineo (Atom Crusher) and Quintessa Swindell (Cyclone) were fun additions, but they felt like X-men rejects who struggled to find their place in this team at times. Pierce Bronson as Dr. Fate was the most intriguing addition to this ragtag crew and fills the Professor X role nicely, but he still suffers from minimal character development. Due to the mad dash to get their role in this storyline uploaded, most audience members might wonder why we should be cheering for this team at all. Each has smoething to add, but there isn’t enough time to get to know them.
Lack of a Substantial Villain
Interestingly, the lack of character development was not the primary issue for this movie. The two areas that caused this project to fall over can be credited to the tone and the lack of a substantial villain. The Zack Snyder darkness remains within the overall feel of these DC productions. Yet, unlike The Batman or Joker, which convincingly leaned in hard to the central characters’ violent sides, this screenplay remained dark and somber with no explanation for his violent tendencies.
Teth Adam is an anti-hero, but it takes too long to find out why he kills all of his enemies and the reason behind his constant staring off at the horizon. Then comes the component that weakens the effectiveness of this story, the adversary. Every great hero needs a formidable and convincing enemy and this character was never revealed until the final act. Understandably, The Justice Society is trying to determine if Adam is the antagonist, but no one truly believes Dwayne Johnson could be the bad guy. This leaves the viewer with the frustration of not knowing who to be cheering against in this film. When the antagonist finally arrives, it all feels like they decided to bring in the set of The Scorpion King to add one more reference for good measure.
It is hard to know what went wrong in getting Black Adam to theatres, but it may have been better to have him included in the Shazam! movie instead. At least there, he could have been allowed to use his humour while remaining on the darker side of this universe. This will be the biggest movie for a week or two, at least until Black Panther arrives, then it will return to the forgettable sands of Kahndaq.
REEL DIALOGUE: Are There Multiple Gods?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. John 1:1-2
Black Adam does provide multiple discussion points for conversations about God. Are there numerous gods who are ambivalent to society? Does magic play a factor in people’s faith? Do many roads exist that lead to one God?
Fortunately, the Bible does give us the answers to these questions and more. After seeing the comic book adventure, it might be worth picking up a copy of the Bible and searching for the answers to the questions that get left unanswered in the film.
Article supplied with thanks to City Bible Forum. Russ Matthews is a film critic at City Bible Forum and Reel Dialogue. He has a passion for film and sparking spiritual conversations.
All images: Movie publicity