Black Adam (2022): The Resurrection of the DCEU?
The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is a universe everyone desperately wants to be excellent, yet they have garnered more disappointments than achievements and being fairly inconsistent until recent years. They started off on the wrong foot with films like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad and ended up having rather accurate comic adaptations with the likes of The Suicide Squad and Shazam! So when Black Adam was finally announced to be in production, with Dwayne Johnson as the titular antihero, the expectations were out of this world. Did they deliver?
Teth-Adam (played by Dwayne Johnson) was a slave of Kahndaq until he was bestowed with the power of gods, which he used to act out his vengeance on his tyrant king. With this vengeance he was imprisoned by his creators, being renamed to Black Adam. 5000 years later, Black Adam is reawakened by Adrianna Tomaz (played by Sarah Sahni). Now released, he is ready to exact his rage again up the world, getting the attention of the Justice Society of America. The members include Hawkman (played by Aldis Hodges), Dr. Fate (played by Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (played by Quintessa Swindell), and Atom Smasher (played by Noah Centineo). The Justice Society hopes to put Black Adam back to sleep before his rage brings destruction upon innocent civilians.
Let me start by saying that Dwayne Johnson wanted to make this movie for almost ten years. During that time, he was approached by New Line Cinema to star as either Shazam or Black Adam. Johnson ultimately was cast as Black Adam to much fan appraise. Jaume Collett-Serra was signed on to direct after Johnson was impressed by his work on Jungle Cruise and production of the film began in 2020, though was put on hold due to the pandemic.
Black Adam is a prime example of what good casting can do. Dwayne Johnson absolutely crushed it as Teth-Adam! Johnson rarely gets many dramatic roles, however he is nothing short of excellent as the titular anti-hero. His stoic nature perfectly matches his character’s tragic origins of seeing his family being killed by occupiers. But besides Johnson, the biggest surprise to me was Aldis Hodge as Hawkman. His chemistry with his co-stars, specifically Johnson, Brosnan and Centineo added a layer of humor that helped relieve tension and allowed audiences to catch their breath.
Possibly the most surprising part in my opinion was exactly how brutal the film was. Black Adam is a comic book character known for showing no mercy and savagery, but at a PG-13 rating, I am surprised with what we got at times. Especially with our official introduction to Black Adam as he is reawakened, wasting no time eliminating combatants without as much as breaking a sweat. Also seeing it from Black Adam’s perspective in having it in slow motion really shows how powerful he truly is. The cherry on top was having that sequence being played out to The Rolling Stones, Paint it Black.
One aspect that I really enjoyed about the film was the initial criticism of the Justice Society of America. When Teth-Adam first appears and wipes out the foreign militias that occupied Kahndaq, the Justice Society appears to take him down. To me, what the Justice Society considers as protecting the world order is just protecting the status quo of a foreign nation. They are so far removed from the problems of Kahndaq that they simply can’t be the judge and jury. This is a problem that many fans of the MCU had with the Avengers protecting those in power while those who want to change the power structure are portrayed as the villains. However, in Black Adam, the Justice Society eventually learns from their mistakes and end up teaming up with Teth-Adam to defeat the villain Sabbac.
Speaking of Sabbac, to say that he’s an underwhelming villain is an understatement. Sabbac is perhaps one of the worst villains that the DCEU has produced. He is painfully reminiscent of Malekith from Thor: The Dark World, one of the worst films in the MCU. The villain is flat as a freaking pancake and also just felt shoehorned in for a third act battle, but more on that later. The filmmakers honestly could have cut this subplot altogether and it would have been better if the focus remained on the differing philosophies of the Justice Society and Black Adam. Even though he got a glorious Mortal Kombat-esque death, it never felt earned. Plus the actor, Marwan Kenzari, has proven himself as a formidable actor and villain in Disney’s live action Aladdin and Netflix’s The Old Guard. The writing just wasn’t there for him.
Additionally, I really disliked the fact that the third act was once again a huge CGI fight. This is a huge and tiring cliché in modern comic book films. Not to mention that the giant sky portal to hell didn’t help distinguish this film from the plethora of comic book films that came before it. If DC fans had a problem with Wonder Woman’s third act, Black Adam’s third act is easily one of the most generic third acts I’ve seen in a comic book film. There’s nothing more uninspired than watching a giant CGI fight with all the characters facing off against a generic-looking villain. Not all comic book films need to end with a large-scale battle. When Teth-Adam actually renounced his powers and surrendered himself to the Justice Society, I actually thought the film would subvert the CGI third act trope. However, that didn't last and I was left feeling unsatisfied.
Despite all its flaws, Black Adam does more good than bad. If there’s one thing that the DCEU excels at, it’s perfect casting (most of the time). Dwayne Johnson is not only perfect for the part of Teth-Adam, but he brought more depth to him that I anticipated. The Justice Society of America’s film introduction was well done and the entire team was well cast, in particular Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate. Not to mention the brutal nature of the film stayed true to its titular character. Despite the generic third act and lackluster final villain, Black Adam is far more entertaining than a good portion of the DCEU. Hopefully it is enough to revamp and resurrect the dying franchise that is the DCEU.
Co-Written By: Noah Kloss