26 Oct 2022

Sam's Take: Black Adam

6:45 pm on 26 October 2022

By Sam Rillstone

Today I'm looking at the latest from Warner Brothers and DC Comics, the antihero story Black Adam.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the story follows an ancient slave called Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) from the fictional country Kahndaq, who gains superpowers from the wizard Shazam in order to free his people. He is then brought into the modern world, and is not as heroic as the stories made him out to be.

Debuting in comics in 1945, Black Adam began as the ancient Egyptian predecessor of the superhero Shazam and wields power from various Egyptian gods. Primarily a villain, the character has gone through a reinvention over the years to become more of an antihero.

Johnson as Adam is decent, and definitely feels like the most complex character that he has played. He absolutely has presence and obviously fulfils the physicality of the role, and has an actual arc with shades of reluctant hero to saviour by any means necessary.

But at points he's infantilised, a fish out of water who is influenced by old Hollywood movies and a child who loves superheroes. He's meant to be a ruthless killer. His grey morals are initially characterised as cultural differences rather than malice.

This is going to sound callous, but I don't want him to have empathy. Don't get me wrong, he has rage. But he's a villain to me, one that can go toe-to-toe with Superman.

Sam's Take Black Adam

Photo: RNZ

This isn't the film's fault but antihero stories have always been a bit iffy to me, particularly ones when the character was created as a villain initially. By all means highlight the villains in your roster, but not at the expense of your heroes.

I have always had the theory that Dwayne Johnson plays the exact same character in each of his movies, just in varying degrees of pissed off. And that theory remains true here.

He's just a big hulking dude who has a bone to pick with somebody. Though this is not the angriest he's been in a movie, which is a little disappointing.

We also get members of the Justice Society of America: Dr Fate, Hawkman, Atom Smasher and Cyclone.

The JSA debuted in the comics in 1940 and were the original blueprint for the more widely known Justice League who debuted in 1960. Not much is different about the two teams aside from their rosters. But Batman himself aptly described the differences of the two teams by saying "The Justice League is a strike force. The Justice Society is a family".

Dr Fate debuted in 1940, and is a sorcerer who gets his power from a helmet that contains the god Nabu. Fate is in frequent conflict with Nabu as the god attempts to usurp control over his body again and again.

Hawkman debuted in 1940 as well, and is the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince who gets his powers from "Nth metal" that is controlled by his thoughts.

Cyclone debuted in 2007 and is the granddaughter of another Justice Society member Red Tornado, gaining her powers after being kidnapped and injected with nanobots.

Atom Smasher debuted in 1996, and gained his powers of size alteration and density from his grandfather, the villain Cyclotron.

Dr Fate (Pierce Brosnan) has presence, appearing as a very wise and stoic member of the team. The film also does a decent job at showing the tragedy of his curse.

Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) has the heart and conviction of Batman, and a real intensity to him. I really enjoyed his character design and his motivation.

Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) is charming and fun. She had a little bit of depth beyond just her powers that was teased and I'm quite keen to see more of her going forward. Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) is ... fine? He's mainly comic relief through the same two jokes.

However, the JSA character intros and origins are almost throwaway lines. There's small tidbits here and there. Of course it's not their movie, but it's just not the smartest to put completely new characters into a movie that's not even about them.

But I did really like these characters on the whole, they had a lot to offer and were decent fun so hopefully we get a prequel or spin-off to expand them some more.

Otherwise, the film meanders a bit around a group of mortal characters who take up way too much screen time. Honestly I don't want to see them, it's called Black Adam. And a lot of their story just ends up being filler to go to a place to grab a thing that isn't the main issue. I want the focus to be Black Adam.

Black Adam is not necessarily fresh or adding anything different, though a lot of the avenues of superhero storytelling have already been covered which certainly makes it hard to create something fresh. But make the characters compelling and that can sometimes be enough. And to be honest, Adam was just compelling enough.

Overall this was kinda what I expected it to be, quite paint by numbers with a complex performance from Dwayne Johnson and a great supporting cast of superheroes.

On the whole, it just is another entry into the DC Universe trying to make a compelling story. Sorry, but you can't just put The Rock in anything and expect it to turn to gold; there needs to be things around him that service the character and the overall story. And also make the main character more of a focus.

But to be honest, there were more things that I liked than I didn't and I am kinda intrigued as to where the character goes next. Hopefully Black Adam is able to fulfil his full potential as an iconic destructive force.

So it's a recommendation from me, but just know what you are getting.

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