Black Adam — A Solid Entry in the DCEU

Image retrieved from TMDb

The DCEU has obviously been in a precarious state for years now. Ever since the relative financial failure of Batman v Superman sent a rotating group of Warner Bros. executives into a downward spiral, DC has been pretty inconsistent. There have been some solid entries (The Batman, Zack Snyder’s Justice League) and some pretty bad entries (Wonder Woman 1984, The Suicide Squad), but mostly, it’s been forgettable. But the latest entry into the franchise, Black Adam, the passion project of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (lol) is actually pretty okay. It’s nowhere near that higher tier, but its action and (attempt at) actual ideas put it in the “not a total waste of time” pile.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: The Rock has been trying to get this movie made for years, yet his character’s personality is all but a carbon copy of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Drax (Dave Bautista). From not understanding sarcasm, to the monotone delivery, to both actors being bald, muscular, former wrestlers, the two performances are basically interchangeable. That’s no compliment. In terms of tone, Black Adam is trying to have the best of both worlds: the action and violence are the most intense we’ve seen from a DCEU film, apart from the films directed by Zack Snyder. Johnson’s introduction is a brutal action scene where people are being broken, struck by lighting, and having their faces melted off a la Raiders of the Lost Ark. But at the same time, starting with Black Adam himself, the movie is trying to be a comedy. The violence and comedy work well for The Suicide Squad since it’s so woven into the film’s DNA, but with Black Adam, it seems like you could be watching two different movies scene to scene.

This is mostly highlighted by the fact that the action is well done for the most part, and the comedy is so lowbrow and unfunny. It’s on par with the worst of the MCU, which is bad. Real bad. I chuckled maybe three times over the course of two hours. Noah Centineo, the star of what feels like 35 Netflix teen comedies, seems to think that’s what Black Adam is. Each one of his mannerisms and line deliveries would fit perfectly in one of those movies, but not this one. So there’s a weird dissonance when his character, Atom Smasher, is growing 100 times his size and stomping bad guys in well-choreographed action sequences, all while making cringe-inducing quips. (Side note: Henry Winkler plays the former Atom Smasher, and has a one-scene cameo. We were that close to seeing Henry Winkler fight The Rock. I’d like to give zero stars for the movie taking that away from me.)

Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) make up the rest of the Justice Society, along with Atom Smasher, and director Jaume Collet-Serra utilizes each one of their unique powers and skills to make some really fun and creative action sequences. And these action sequences feel like they last 25 minutes each. In fact, it feels like the movie is one long action sequence with five-minute dialogue breaks here and there. But it’s genuinely engaging and rarely devolves into visual noise, which oddly allows the film to move along at a brisk pace. And Lorne Balfe’s raging score elevates it all. Having done the score for Mission: Impossible — Fallout, if anyone knows how to compose music for a movie that’s 90% action, it’s him.

The relationship between Dr. Fate and Hawkman, though, is the heart of the movie. With The Rock giving a nothing performance, it’s nice to see some tried and true co-stars step up to the challenge. Hodge and Brosnan have great chemistry, even though we know next to nothing about their characters or history. Questions about what it means to be a good hero, discussions of fate, and repeated lip service to oppressive nations show that the filmmakers at least had something on their mind during production, and it elevates the movie enough so that the action doesn’t become mind-numbing drivel. It’s a fine line to walk, but honestly, Black Adam just might be the best the DCEU has to offer outside films starring Batman or Superman.


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