Black Adam, by Cameron J. Czaja

When it comes to superhero films in Hollywood, Marvel has built an empire of films known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The only major competition that they have is DC Comic’s cinematic universe, which is The DC Extended Universe, or DCEU for short. Their debut feature was the reboot Superman film Man of Steel (2013), which got mixed reviews, though I enjoyed it quite a bit. Then Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) was released three years later to mixed to negative reception. I didn’t hate it compared to others, but I did feel disappointed by the potential that it had. Then five months later Suicide Squad (2016) was released and (let’s just say it) it was one of the worst films I have saw that year. I’ll leave it at that. While my optimism for the DCEU fell after Suicide Squad, they did something that surprised me: they improved in quality starting with Wonder Woman (2017). That’s not to say that every film released from that point on was a smash hit with the critics, but it did get me invested again. Then I saw previews for the latest DCEU film Black Adam and once again, my optimism has dwindled.

Look, I like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. While I don’t think I’ll ever hear his name in the category for Best Actor at the Oscars any time soon, I think he’s a very charismatic actor/entertainer that can hype a crowd. It is too bad that his charm can’t get me excited for the latest DCEU film Black Adam as the trailers make me feel like I’m watching a discount Marvel film with explosions happening everywhere and tons of CGI filling the frames of the film. I am somewhat curious as to how this will play out though because the Rock has been trying to get this made for several years now, and I always feel confident going into a film knowing that the actor isn’t sleep walking in a movie. Another reason why I was somewhat positive about this film is that it is a spinoff of the 2019 film Shazam, and that was a DCEU flick I did enjoy. Was I wrong and did DC make a really decent film? As usual, let’s find out. 

First set five-thousand years before the main events of Black Adam, we are first introduced to Kahndaq, a Middle Eastern city ruled by the tyrannical King Ahk-Ton (Marwan Kenzari). One day, the king orders his people to mine for a particular rock in order to form the crown of Sabbac in order to rule humanity. One boy named Hurut (Jalon Christian), however, decides to lead his people in a revolt that then leads to a public execution. Just before he gets killed, he is summoned by the Council of Wizards, which also includes the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), and grant him special powers, similar to Shazam. With his newly required powers, he confronts the king who has completed assembling his crown, and before he puts it on, the newly powerful being kills him and his staff. This leads the Council of Wizards to second guess their decision and therefore banishes him to a tomb in a mountain near the city. Flash forward to the present day Kahndaq, which is now run by a group called Intergang. We follow archaeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), who is trying to locate the crown of  Sabbac with assistance from her brother Karim (Mohammed Amer) and her colleagues Samir (James Cusati-Moyer) and Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari). Adrianna hopes to find the crown, but not use it for any nefarious ways, but rather hide it before the Intergang can find and use it for their own wrongdoing. The group is successful in finding the lost relic, which was located in the mountain where the powerful being was imprisoned, but then are ambushed by the members of the Intergang. As a last resort, Adrianna reads an incantation on the ground which summons the powerful being who goes by the name Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson). He then dispatches the mercenaries with ease and after taking out almost all of them, he gets hit with a rocket containing the same type of rock used to make the crown and knocks him unconscious. Moments later, he wakes up in Adrianna’s son’s room, where he is confronted by her son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) and informs him about the current situation of Kahndaq. The family gets ambushed by the gang again, whose whereabouts were exposed by Ishmael, the man behind the earlier attack. This ambush results in many deaths of the mercenaries and finds its way into the middle of a city where there are citizens taking notice of their new, unintentional hero. This attack grabs the attention of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who recruits the Justice Society of America to help capture and imprison Teth-Adam before he starts attacking areas outside the city. This group is led by Carter Hall A.K.A. Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Kent Nelson A.K.A Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Al Rothstein A.K.A Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Maxine Hunkel A.K.A Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). When the team gets to the city, they soon realize that capturing Teth-Adam is going to be easier said than done. Not only do they have to deal with him, but now they want the crown so that no one else can use it for any wrongdoing, similar to Adrianna’s intentions. 

As mentioned before, I had little to no expectations for Black Adam. I wasn’t expecting it to be worse than Morbius (the worst comic book film I’ve seen this year), but on the same level as Suicide Squad. Fortunately, Black Adam was not that film. In fact, there are moments that I enjoyed, whether it’s certain characters or watching action sequences. However, this movie is littered with problems that I couldn’t overlook, even though I was enjoying the moments I mentioned. One big problem that this film has is that it just feels underdeveloped across the spectrum. 

After I got done watching Black Adam, I realized that this film had the potential to be maybe not be a perfect movie, but a great blockbuster in general if everything was well developed. From the characters to the world itself, it felt like there was a lot missing in this film. Take the Justice Society of America, for example. When they are introduced, there is very little information about them, which was confusing to me as I know little of this group from the comics. In retrospect, I believe it would’ve been better to have a Justice Society of America movie followed by a Black Adam movie. That way we would’ve already had established characters to go by instead of rushed development that gave me no clue on who is who throughout the film. Aside from the Justice Society of America, the villain of the film was another character that was underdeveloped. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say that the villain of the film turns into a demon in the third act with powers literally from Hell. As a Catholic, this should be a terrifying villain and he is, for a minute or two. The lack of dread mainly stems from how underdeveloped the villain was, mainly because it felt rushed in the third act and how oversaturated the screen was with CGI effects. What’s weird is that this movie is well over two hours long, which is the proper running time for this film and it could’ve done so much with that story and characters. Yet, it focuses too much on action and effects leaving the film somewhat empty. Later that evening, I tweeted that I got more emotion from the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever trailer that played during the previews, and after a couple of days following that tweet my thoughts still stand.

Aside from not being properly developed, another issue I had with Black Adam was how similar it was to other comic book films that came before it. Take the characters, for example. Excluding Teth-Adam because he is supposed to resemble Shazam, almost all the characters in the film (at least the super powered ones) felt like a carbon copy of other heroes from other comic book films from years past. Dr. Fate reminded me too much of Doctor Strange; Atom Smasher felt like a three-way combination of Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Deadpool; and Cyclone reminded me too much of Storm from the X-Men. Even the Justice Society of America reminded me of the X-Men as their headquarters is a mansion located in a secluded area and travels by a jet, which looks similar to the X-Men’s. Obviously, it sounds like I am nitpicking at this point, but my issue stands because of my exposure to other better comic book films.

Despite my negative thoughts on the characters in Black Adam, I did enjoy them on the whole, so much so that I would like to see a standalone Justice Society of America film if Warner Bros. decides to make one. I even liked Teth-Adam who, for the most, carried this film. One thing I forgot to mention about him, is that he is considered an anti-hero rather than a traditional hero. I mentioned in my summary of the film how he would take out bad guys with no remorse, which bothers Hawkman because he feels heroes don’t kill people and if they do, it’s a last resort. While Teth-Adam isn’t your traditional comic book protagonist, his path does parallel other heroes from other stories such as defending those in need of protection when the time comes. This always make me think of whenever I or someone prays to God for somebody for help. While Teth-Adam is a far cry from a regular hero, he is someone the people of Kahndaq do see as an answered prayer given how oppressed they are. I mean, an anti-hero is better than no hero, I guess.

This year alone, I have seen over eighty-five films released this year, and while Black Adam is far from being in my top ten favorite films of 2022, it’s not close to being in my list of the worst. Overall, it is a very mid film. There are moments that I did enjoy watching on the IMAX screen, and up until the third act, it was a well-paced film. I talked to my dad after I got out of the film and told him my complaints about the characters. I then told him that he would probably have enjoyed it more because he doesn’t watch a lot of comic book films and he won’t get bothered by the similarity of characters that bothered me.  If you’re like my dad, then I think you will enjoy this quite a bit. As for me, however, I’m just waiting for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever to come out for my superhero fix. I should be pretty subdued when it comes to the superhero genre due to this film and the amount we’re getting in general, but that trailer still gives me chills.

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