Black Adam is an unmitigated disaster. Completely unwatchable bullshit.
It lacks the patience to craft compelling characters and the wisdom required to build a world around them. Every action scene is an incoherent mess often overlaid with groan-worthy needle drops on the soundtrack. The story is only consistent in its incoherence, as characters make choices that follow no interior logic. Not even Dwayne Johnson, attached to play the title character for over 14 years, can seem to figure out what the hell is going on here. At no point is it fun, fleet or remotely clever.
For all of its much ballyhooed anti-heroics, there are few surprising moments, and none feels like anything more than quick, violent pandering to grown men who insist that superheroes must cater to their demographic. In 2016, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice murdered the D.C. Extended Universe (DCEU) in its infancy for all but the most ardent fanboys. Assuming mainstream audiences even show up, Black Adam gives those who tuned out reason to be proud.
This is one of the worst superhero films ever made.
The story here is that Teth-Adam (Johnson) lived 5,000 years ago as a slave in Kahndaq, a fictional Middle Eastern location. (In the past decade, it’s become quite a cultural flashpoint to cast performers with ethnicities that match their characters, so it’s a little strange that the famously Samoan-descended Johnson is playing Middle Eastern, but to each their own).
The evil ruler of Kahndaq used his slaves to mine Eternium, a mineral that would let him build a demon crown. At some point, Adam was empowered by the council of Wizards (last seen in Shazam!, of which this is technically a spinoff). He used his mighty powers to massacre the evil king and was subsequently imprisoned until modern day, when Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), a rebellious professor, awakens him while searching for a way to defeat the evil Intergang, which now controls modern-day Kahndaq.
Meanwhile, the Justice Society of America, a group of dopey Justice League wannabes, decides Black Adam is too powerful to run around freely, so the group decides to go hit him really hard for some reason. Look, I know the JSA is not really a Justice League riff and that they have a long and storied history in the comics with plenty of classic, long-running series. You wouldn’t know that from this movie. They’re led by Hawkman (Aldis Hodge, working overtime) and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan, not), two characters who are not given nearly enough charisma, function or humor to work here.
People give Marvel Studios all sorts of shit for how many odd characters they take, but even their greatest misfires — like Thor: Love and Thunder — feel like ambitious failures crafted from flawed but interesting choices. There’s nothing ambitious in Black Adam. There is nothing nice to say about it at all.
It’s a wonder Johnson spent so long bringing this character to the screen, and his full-court marketing press has been a herculean feat of social media presence. Every interview of scripted enthusiasm, toothy smiles and tall promises to the “fans” has felt more earnest than the performance he delivers here. Once upon a time, Johnson was known for playing the heel, but that era in his career passed long, long ago, and the dissonance between the violent warrior Adam is supposed to be with the lovable figure Johnson has worked so hard to build is noticeable. The performer just doesn’t have it in him anymore.
Perhaps it isn’t entirely his fault. It must be hard to put in a good performance for director Jaume Collet-Serra, who turned in a promising career making mid-budget thrillers to work full time as one of Johnson’s go-to guys. Between last year’s abysmal Jungle Cruise and Black Adam, he’s managed to direct the worst tentpoles of the year for consecutive years. Collet-Serra’s earlier films showed such talent that it really feels like he just isn’t built for this type of product.
Man of Steel, which launched the whole misbegotten DCEU in 2013, introduced the world to a darker and more “grounded” take on these heroes. It had its flaws but feels like a masterpiece compared to Black Adam. The two have some very direct points of comparison, too, as supposed launching points for future films. Zack Snyder’s Steel, for example, featured a breathlessly cool prologue on Krypton whereas Adam features an extended sequence narrated by an annoying child. In Snyder’s film, the violence of two Kryptonians battling is destructive and purposely reminiscent (however wrongheadedly so) of 9/11. Here, Adam’s supposed brutal fighting is nowhere near as destructive and, 10 years later, considerably worse-looking. Steel’s fights still inspire awe; Adam‘s are nauseating at best.
Of course, Adam also invites comparison because it delivers on what “fans” have been supposedly clamoring for — the return of Henry Cavill to the role of Superman, a half-decade after his experience filming Justice League turned him off the role and turned Warners off of the franchise he headlined. Bringing Cavill in for a post-credits tease is a Hail Mary by a studio desperate to garner interest in a movie that they clearly know has no interest to any sort of general audience. It’s kind of pathetic, particularly because there’s a blatant joke about Superman being an empty role early on in this film. I’m a fan of Cavill in that role, but there’s no part of me that thinks he deserves to be thrown into more shitty iterations of the character, if Black Adam is any indication of where it will go from here.
Frankly, Johnson’s other recent films have been so godawful that there’s really no reason to believe a sequel to this would employ more interesting creative voices.
What a total turd circus.