It’s hard to divorce myself from being a DC Comics fan and watching these DCEU movies. On one level, I dig the direction that Black Adam is going. It tries to tap into an anti-imperialism story blended with a legacy of revenge while tossing in chunks of the Justice Society to make the most chaotic movie possible. It’s kinda neat watching Doctor Fate and Hawkman trying to reason with a rage-fueled Black Adam in a volatile city. On the other hand, I just know there’s somebody next to me who is going to look at this mess exclaiming, “Wait, who is Hawkman and how come his mace can turn into an ax?”
Black Adam is a movie that has so much frenetic energy coursing through its blur of CGI-laced battlefields. Some credit should be given to director Jaume Collet-Serra for not meandering and sticking to his guns as a fast-paced action filmmaker. He doesn’t slow down for pathos or give the audience a second to keep track of all the heroes and villains at play. He just throws you into the mix for the most part and you hit the ground running. For those eager to see Dwayne Johnson slaughter some foes as the god-like Black Adam, you won’t have to wait long. After a brief exposition of wizard powers and a standard treasure-hunting scenario, we get to see him lay waste to an army when awakened.
Black Adam is portrayed as a legendary anti-hero, having been hailed as a god to the fictional city Kahndaq. He’s revived during the modern era where the city has now been occupied by the super-powered syndicate known as Intergang. So when Adam starts smashing Intergang forces, the occupied public applauds him. At the same time, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is well aware of Adam’s history, his powers, and how dangerous he can be. So she calls in the secretive Justice Society, whom I can only assume she keeps around for less dirty missions that don’t require Task Force X.
The Justice Society is composed of an eclectic bunch. Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) is a master of magic but can also peer into the future, making him the ultimate spoiler. Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), or Carter Hall, has the powers of a Thanagarian that gives him flight and magic-absorbing armor and weapons. Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) can grow large and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) can create tornadoes. I wish there was more to their characters but their backstories are only mentioned briefly and then never spoken of again.
Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) does play a pivotal role in this film but more as the human element for being a treasure-hunting mother aiming to save her city as opposed to becoming Adam’s superpowered counterpart, Isis. Together, they all have to quell Black Adam and prevent Intergang from gaining access to demonic powers that will bring forth Sabbac (Marwan Kenzari).
Okay, so, that’s a lot. There are probably a lot of questions. Who exactly is the Justice Society? How is Doctor Fate possessed? Where did Hawkman come from? These are all questions that are never given many answers. Most of the film breezes through the exposition or exploration of these characters. Who is Atom Smasher? Well, he grows really tall and can smash things. The movie wants you to believe that’s all there is to him, but does it have to be? After all, the film portrays characters like Atom Smasher and Cyclone as quirky interns meant to be superhero underdogs. Too bad they don’t feel like underdogs and more like the on-call staff of the Justice Society.
Of course, I doubt anybody is coming to this film for the Justice Society. They want to see Dwayne Johnson as the badass anti-hero of DC Comics that many had been hoping for years that he would play. There is a certain magnetic presence to his stoic and dry delivery, where it doesn’t take much of any CGI to intimidate. His dry humor works okay when paired up with Adrianna’s son for some Terminator 2 style relatability. Much of the comedy comes from Johnson’s performance which treats every brash move and misreading of modernity with great absurdity.
And, yes, there are lots and lots and lots of fights. Black Adam goes incredibly violent as his kills range from electrocuting people into skeletons to tearing them apart into mushy pulp. He tosses bad guys, zooms around city buildings, and busts through walls like he forgot doors exist. Plenty of punching, as well, where Intergang henchmen are punched so hard it’s like Black Adam is competing in the home run derby. You’ll also get to see the Justice Society get involved in the fights in numerous ways, spanning from Doctor Fate’s duplicating illusions to Hawkman’s powerful smashing and bashing. There are so many fights and so much destruction that it’s honestly surprising that Kahndaq endures less damage than Metropolis did in Man of Steel.
So much fighting, in fact, that the film hardly ever slows down for a breath. There’s no time to get to appreciate the characters or understand them outside of the brief pathos and en-route intros. Remember, they have to stop Intergang. Who is Intergang? They want the Crown of Sabbac. Why do they need the Crown of Sabbac? So they can bring forth the powers of hell and rule over Earth with zombies, I guess. You just gotta keep up with the pace to get all this.
The best and worst thing that can be said of Black Adam is that it’s the DCEU’s most straightforward and sometimes mindless action bonanza. There are some aspects of anti-imperialism addressed with how Adam clashes with the Justice Society and how they interpret freedom. All of those unique political aspects mostly get swept away once an evil demon takes over the city and now everybody who isn’t an undead monster is on the same team. This ultimately leads to a climax with some mixed signals amid its superhero excitement of big and bold fight sequences. As a DC Comics fan, I’ll admit there’s a bit of pleasure watching Hawkman swing his Thanagarian mace in the face of Black Adam.
Wait, I just realized Hawkman’s origins have some crossover with Black Adam! Why wasn’t this addressed? They could’ve connected! So many missed opportunities in this stylish film that seems more like a vanity project for Johnson than a chance to expand the DCEU in a non-clunky way.