A good while ago, The Rock, when describing his new superhero film BLACK ADAM in an Instagram post, stated that “the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe will change forever.” This dramatic statement created quite the buildup for his new film, with fans hoping it would be a saving grace for a DC Universe which never quite seems to pull itself together. However, while BLACK ADAM promises a packed future for DC, as a standalone origin story it never succeeds any more than any of the other decent-to-forgettable superhero films that Warner Bros. has churned out. The film will give die-hard fans plenty to talk about and geek out over, but it fails to generate a narrative of quality that gives moviegoers the stowstopping DC Universe revival that many were anticipating.
However, the beginnings of BLACK ADAM exhibit the promise of Dwayne Johnson’s hype. The narrative begins with a description of the great mythology of Kahndaq, a fictional nation that serves as a direct parallel to current African and Middle-Eastern countries that have been passed from oppressor to oppressor, such as Iran or The Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Ancient Times, Kahndaq was ruled by a dictator-like figure who possessed a magical crown that lent him God-like powers of invincibility. However, a challenger and representative of the people came forward and vanquished this ruler, freeing the oppressed people of Kahndaq for a short time until their next ruler came. We then cut to the present day, in which Kahndaq is an impoverished nation under military occupation, and its residents are looking for a savior who will alleviate their current crisis.
This allegory is where the thematic potential of the film lies, with an applicable message about the treatment of so-called “third-world” countries from nations that are more privileged and rich. These people want the same rights and crave to live as freely as those in wealthier nations, but are often ignored and treated as subhuman due to crises that are deemed unfixable. For a big-budget superhero movie, the narrative of BLACK ADAM shoots for some highly ambitious themes that have consequences in world politics, which is nothing less than an admirable pursuit. However, given it is a DC Universe film, these themes become a backdrop for the same mindless entertainment that we have come to expect from modern superhero movies, which makes the effort fruitless.
Once Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) finds the powerful crown to ensure it does not land in the wrong hands, she unleashes the challenger (Dwayne Johnson) on the military occupying Kahndaq. We then are given the best action sequences of the film as Johnson massacres dozens of various military and police that respond to the situation (yes, this movie is somehow PG-13). As much as I appreciate the point BLACK ADAM makes about the horror of occupation and colonization, I don’t understand the point of constantly justifying killing literally every single person The Rock sees (except for the main characters, of course). BLACK ADAM is branding itself about being about an “anti-hero,” yet it doesn’t treat the constant killing as a moral ambiguity, but instead as the punchline of constant jokes.
BLACK ADAM is at its worst when it focuses on world-building and when it tries to be Marvel more than being an actual movie. The second half of the film is filled with canned moments of humor that feel like they were taken from a Tony Stark-inspired “Smart Remark Generator.” Once people realize The Rock is causing havoc, the Justice Society comes in to save the day and stop him from causing more mayhem. This group comprises of Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman, a boring superhero character who just seems to boss everyone else around; Pierce Brosnan’s Doctor Fate, possibly the only other interesting character in the movie besides Johnson’s Black Adam; and Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher and Quintessa Swindell’s Cyclone, two pointless characters who don’t seem to do anything but make jokes and flirt with each other. BLACK ADAM becomes significantly more boring when these characters enter the narrative, and once they team up it becomes yet another big-budget film where our heroes must stop a beam of light in the sky that will supposedly destroy Earth in a random amount of time.
It is a shame that the film ends up becoming this trite, because the ideas it contains are truly interesting and had the makings of being a superhero story that was different from the rest. Warner Bros. needs to let their creators and directors make films that dare to stick to something different rather than following the same formula of the last five DC projects. The entire final big-budget action sequence felt taken straight from a Zack Snyder film, and while I admire his work, the DC Universe cannot copy his style forever. I’m looking forward to the day in which the DC Universe breaks from convention and tries something different (The Batman is a step in the right direction), but all BLACK ADAM says is that viewers may have to wait longer for those changes to come. For a movie that was supposed to “change the hierarchy of power forever” for the DC Universe, BLACK ADAM sure looks and feels like every other forgettable superhero movie.