Despite its flaws, Black Adam is a certified DC heavyweight. Dwayne Johnson was born to play this role and single-handedly forges a bright future for the DC Universe
When it was announced, Dwayne Johnson promised that Black Adam would change the landscape of the DC Universe forever. And to be fair, the franchise has had its ups and downs of late. The Batman was a decent enough run-out for Gotham’s Dark Knight, Wonder Woman 1984 was, at best a divisive affair, and The Suicide Squad was great in parts and near-unwatchable in others. So, can Johnson grab the franchise by the horns and carry the DC Universe to the promised land on his broad shoulders? Or is Teth Adam’s big-screen debut another lukewarm letdown destined for the bargain bin?
Fear not DC fans because Black Adam is a triumph. And although the film lacks the same gravitas and weight as Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, it effortlessly returns us to the glory days of DC. To a time when heroes were revered not jeered. Not that the film is without some flaws. There are a few bumps in the road along the way. But overall, Johnson’s debut sticks the landing and delivers a solid movie worthy of its place in any comic book universe.
Let’s get down to business and get the first bump in the road out of the way. The plot. Now, past DC movies have either been way too heavy, or seriously undercooked. Either way, both delivered a questionable outcome. But thankfully, Black Adam opts for a tried and tested formula for its origin story. For the most part, it is lifted straight from the comics. And it is in these moments that the backstory packs a genuine punch. However, as soon as Teth Adam is summoned from his slumber, the story descends into a neverending assembly line of set pieces for Johnson to wander through.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re here for superhero battles and big explosions, you’re in for a treat. But somewhere along the way, you need some meat on the bones to chew on. And after a while, the plot-driven cinephiles among us will be yearning for something more substantial to mull over.
FORMULAIC AND BREATHTAKING
Bringing a being as powerful as Teth Adam into the DC Universe was always going to be problematic. But thankfully, Johnson and his amazing team have pulled it off. His awesome power is there for all to see, and Johnson and his team don’t shy away from revealing the scope of his lethality. Not that the film is gruesome in any way. In fact, the darker aspects are tempered by a truly vibrant palette. But you get a true sense of Teth Adam’s invincibility, albeit without the endless bloodletting.
Being an antihero of the best kind, the character is flawed by his views on good and evil. And the film harnesses those aspects and projects them through the screen for all to see. It seems bizarre to suggest that the film is both generic and breathtaking at the same time. But that’s it in a nutshell. And it offers some challenging and interesting ideas about the role of a superhero and how they are perceived.
In the film, we are presented with two equally valid perceptions of the role of a hero. Teth Adam emerges with a clear intent for vengeance but is at heart, a good person. Albeit one who is tortured by the events of his past. While at the other end of the scope, Hawkman, played wonderfully by Aldis Hodge strives to maintain order in the tried and tested JSA way. Both viewpoints hold weight. But with Adam killing henchman by the dozen, it highlights the grey area between heroes and villains. It’s a difficult balance to pull off. But by the time Johnson is in full flow and dropping a few well-placed lines of comedic gold, the scales tip in either direction at the drop of a hat.
Encapsulating the heroic end of the spectrum is the JSA. Led fantastically by the scene-stealing Hawkman and the increasingly irreplaceable Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), the team facing off against Teth Adam is stacked with big-screen debutants. Atom Smasher and Cyclone bring youth and a fresh-faced approach while the veterans carry the burden of leadership and bringing down a weapon of mass destruction like Adam. Their introduction is nothing short of a breath of fresh air, and their inclusion feels very, dare I say Marvel-esque. And not in a derogatory fashion. To quantify it, it feels as if they’ve always been there, even though this is their collective debut. And that is all down to the guidance of a well-oiled team of creatives.
The action and the spectacle seem to grow from one encounter to the next. And the result is a visual feast for the eyes. And not just in terms of CGI either. The locations selected for the movie never cease to dazzle, and the beauty of the landscape easily makes Black Adam the most vibrant entry in the franchise to date. The environments are rich and rewarding, and the costumes are arguably some of the best we’ve seen in the DC Universe. However, some of the CGI is overly cumbersome in places and the crude super-speed motions leave a lot to be desired. But these are small detractions from what is otherwise a true visual feast.
BREAKING THE MOLD
The major drawback of the movie is its lack of originality. Once the spectacle and the dazzling images are stripped back, the storyline fails to deliver anything we haven’t already seen. Which is a real shame. The filmmakers had the opportunity to create something truly bold and ambitious, and to a degree they did. But, when all is said and done, the movie feels a little too safe for its own good. And in the cold light of day, it fails to inspire anything new from the superhero formula. But these are minor grievances with what is otherwise a noteworthy debut. One that will have DC fans grinning from ear to ear.
Accentuating the visual awesomeness on display is Lorne Balfe’s bombastic score. Every superhero movie yearns for a worthy soundtrack to bring the ship home, and Balfe delivers on the mandate in spades. His soundtrack is packed to the brim with powerful soundscapes. The JSA is rewarded with a suitably heroic theme while Teth Adam’s motifs are far more layered and highlight the good/bad duality of the character. And when all is said and done, the combination packs a real punch. One that will have you updating your DC playlist with glee. Mark my words.
By now it should be abundantly clear that Black Adam is one helluva rollercoaster ride. One packed with incredible set pieces, visually stunning landscapes, and genuinely funny moments. Of course, it has its flaws. But these are few and far between and they soon get buried beneath a layer of spectacle rarely rivaled in multiplexes this year. Dwayne Johnson turns in an exceptional performance and proves that he was born to play this role. But even he is upstaged by Aldis Hodge in his debut as Hawkman. Hodge delivers a standout performance that demands attention. And if he isn’t rewarded with his own solo outing, it will be a major disservice. The same can be said of Doctor Fate. Pierce Brosnan takes to the superhero genre like a duck to water. And his performance as Kent Nelson will leave every DC fan yearning for more.
The trifecta of Fate, Hawkman, and Adam is a true highlight of the movie. And it rewards us with some of the best moments. The rivalry between Adam and Carter Hall is intense and their constant headbutting is the material every comic book movie strives for. And it’s brilliant to watch. And this dynamic alone is worth the price of admission.
If Jaume Collet-Serra set out to deliver a truly over-the-top, but fun comic book movie he succeeded. Throughout its thrifty two-hour running time, the director delivers a movie that is low on flaws, big on action, and iconic in every sense. It delivers everything a comic book movie should. And that is pure cinema at its best. In a world filled with icons like Superman, Batman, and Aquaman, a new superpower has arisen. Whether or not he has changed the landscape remains to be seen. But either way, the DC Universe is back, and long may Black Adam reign!
Black Adam is released through Warner Bros. and is playing in multiplexes from Friday!
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Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!