By Ben Konuch
“You like to split the world into just good and evil, but it’s easy for you when you’re the one drawing the line.”
My relationship with the DCEU has been shaky, to say the least. I’m a huge fan of DC’s characters, with Batman and his extended lore of sidekicks and villains being a big percentage of my favorite comic book characters. When it comes to DC’s modern film adaptations of these characters, though, the first few years of the DC Extended Universe have been pretty inconsistent. Pair this with the Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon “Justice League” controversy, the cancellation of the fully-filmed “Batgirl,” and the Warner Brothers and Discovery merger, many fans like myself have genuinely wondered what the state of the DCEU’s future looks like. “Black Adam,” at least for me, puts a lot of those fears to rest.
Stuck in pre-production since 2007, Black Adam has finally made his film debut in the DCEU with this fairly straightforward but action-packed event. Directed by Jaume Collet-Sera, “Black Adam” stars Dwayne Johnson in its titular role as Teth-Adam, the ancient champion of the country Kahndaq, who is brought back into the modern world to face a new threat. While Teth-Adam is grappling with the expectations of a subjugated country that demand him to be a hero when he never desired to be one, his destructive powers cause the world to panic and government official Amanda Waller calls in a team known as the Justice Society to take down the anti-hero. When Teth-Adam and the Justice Society clash, it not only begins a battle for Teth-Adam’s right to use his powers how he sees fits but also sets in motion the first steps of a cataclysmic future that must be avoided at all costs.
In terms of its characters, “Black Adam” mostly hits the mark. Dwayne Johnson is perfect as the stoic man out-of-time without constantly having to remind audiences that he’s from a different era, which in my opinion is an improvement of the trope over the way “The Avengers” presented this with Steve Rogers. Teth-Adam is often the punchline instead of the one delivering jokes just because he has a very different view of humor and worldviews, leading to comedy that feels mostly natural in the script and is typically used as a way to break the tension of certain scenes. Some of the comedy that doesn’t involve Teth-Adam comes off as forced or inappropriate for the situation, but it does mostly come across as endearing instead of outright annoying.
Aldis Hodge as Hawkman, leader of the Justice Society, is a very well-cast foil to Teth-Adam. His character is a blind follower of a black-and-white view of the world in which Teth-Adam’s moral grayness doesn’t fit, leading to a dangerous clash of ideals. Pierce Brosnan, however, steals the show as Doctor Fate. A magician whose powers are both a blessing and a curse, Brosnan imbues the complex mix of weariness and duty into what could easily be a bland throwaway character.
The other characters of the Justice Society, Atom Smasher and Cyclone (played by Noah Centineo and Quintessa Swindle respectively), contribute to the action in delightfully unique ways but regrettably don’t have much to do with the plot. Their characters do have potential that I would love to see further explored, but as it stands their purpose in the film is mostly regulated to comedic relief and action scenes.
“Black Adam” may not reinvent or redefine the superhero film in the ways that films such as “The Dark Knight” or “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” have, but what it may lack in terms of storytelling depth it more than makes up for in spectacle and style. “Black Adam” is full of action that showcases the abilities of each of its characters in spectacular visual displays of power and action. All of the fight sequences are filmed with such impact that you never doubt that you’re watching titans clash in this universe, with each punch, explosion, and crackle of electricity carrying a weight of raw power. This kind of hard-hitting action is a superhero spectacle I haven’t seen since Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” and with fantastic filmography work from Lawrence Sher – Oscar-nominated cinematographer of “Joker” – every fight scene looks beautiful and flows together effortlessly.
“Black Adam” is not without flaws, however. Parts of dialogue are clunky, prioritizing exposition and plot information over characterization. The third act’s big fight is a fairly straightforward superhero final fight scene you’ve seen a dozen times before, and while some plot twists genuinely took me by surprise, an equal number of them I saw coming a mile away. One young character, in particular, overstays his welcome, especially in the third act, and becomes more of a hindrance and annoyance to the plot which utterly frustrated me. And while “Black Adam’s” unconventional pacing at the beginning doesn’t bother me, I could also see how the sudden jump into action before we get a chance to understand or care for our characters could be a hard sell.
In the end, I can acknowledge that “Black Adam” has flaws and could have been a lot more polished while still admitting that I absolutely adore it. Is it cliche at times? Absolutely. Is it occasionally over the top and sometimes unoriginal? Definitely. But “Black Adam” brings a sense of fun back into this universe, a gleeful sense of action and a celebration of these heroes and the potential that their power brings into film. It uses its cliches well and puts enough spins on them to make me feel like I’m watching something fresh, even while it never quite reaches groundbreaking.
I give “Black Adam” a 7.5/10
“Black Adam” is currently playing in theaters.
Ben Konuch is a sophomore strategic communications student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and failing horribly at volleyball with his friends.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures