A powerhouse performance from Dwayne Johnson, along with excellent action, allows Black Adam to overcome some small issues and be a fun big screen experience.
In all honesty, I was beginning to doubt if Black Adam, a film that I had been anticipating for 10 years, would live up to the hype. I spent all those years reading up on the Shazam and Black Adam characters once Dwayne Johnson confirmed he would be portraying Shazam’s arch nemesis. The idea of a solo film for the character of Teth-Adam was intriguing to me for what I assume also helped draw Johnson to the character. Black Adam is one of the most powerful beings in the entire DC Universe and he is charismatic and ruthless. There is also the fact that the character has ages worth of comic history to draw from in one way or another. While 2022’s Black Adam does not feature a showdown between the title character and Billy Batson/Shazam, as portrayed by the combo of Zachary Levi and Asher Angel, it does do a wonderful job introducing the man in black to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Not only that, but it goes out of its way to highlight the complexities of Teth-Adam and allows us to get to understand him. This origin story will make it even sweeter when Black Adam and Shazam do finally clash.
So, did Black Adam live up to the lofty expectations I had for it? The answer is in fact yes, but there are elements that could have been handled better. Dwayne Johnson gives what I believe to be the best performance of his career to date in the role of Teth-Adam/Black Adam. There is also the introduction of the Justice Society of America (JSA), which is mostly handled well. Aldis Hodge as Justice Society leader Carter Hall/Hawkman, and Pierce Brosnan as Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate, who is a sorcerer, both stand out among the JSA members in the film. The action is nonstop once the film gets rolling and these sequences are incredible. One of my early concerns from the trailers was the sheer number of visual effects that Black Adam used, and I worried that the film would not be able to sustain a high visual quality. However, the VFX team did a tremendous job and allowed me to further immerse myself in this world.
As for the drawbacks, the screenplay is the biggest issue with Black Adam. While it does give audiences a fantastic origin for the title character and his home city of Kahndaq, it can feel like it is doing too much in certain areas and too little in others. There is also the fact that this script does not give Black Adam a worthy opponent to face off against. The villain of Black Adam stands as one of the most forgettable antagonists in recent comic book film history. Despite these two very key issues, there is so much to love about this film and Dwayne Johnson and company have gone out of their way to create one heck of a big screen experience.
Black Adam serves as a spin off to Shazam! (2019) and centers on Teth-Adam/Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson), an antihero who was gifted the powers of various Egyptian gods from the ancient wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). Teth-Adam reawakens in modern day Kahndaq after being imprisoned for 5,000 years and begins to dish out his unique brand of justice. This puts him at odds with the Justice Society of America: Carter Hall/Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Albert “Al” Rothstein/Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell).
One of the most common criticisms I hear about Dwayne Johnson’s career is that he basically portrays himself in every film he is in. While in certain cases I can see where that criticism is coming from: I can assure you that in Black Adam, I witnessed Dwayne Johnson embody the character he was portraying. Not once was my illusion shattered and Johnson brought a near perfect portrayal of Teth-Adam to the screen. He clearly used everything in his acting tool bag here. His version of the man in black is dripping in charisma, you feel every bit of his rage and pain, and there are moments where Johnson is terrifying. This performance, along with his characterization, is exactly what was needed to make Black Adam compelling to audiences. Without both of these things, you would end up with a villain that is a cardboard cutout and in no way worthy of his own film.
Black Adam’s backstory is solid, taking pieces from various eras of his history with new elements thrown in. It helps create an antihero that makes you think: “Hey, this person has a point” in the same way that Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger did in Black Panther (2018). Black Adam presents a main character that shows that not every person with superpowers is going to be squeaky clean and they do not have to be. This does not mean that said person is not complex and is incapable of being a good person. There is a fine line between hero and villain and that is what the character of Teth-Adam and his story will make audiences think about. You will learn about why he is the way he is and see him do a little bit of everything. Based on everything you see and learn; it will be up to you whether you root for him or not at the end of the film. The backstory, events of the film, and Johnson’s performance did enough for me to see Teth-Adam’s point of view and root for his character at the end of the day.
Then there is the Justice Society of America, one of the most interesting and unexpected additions to the DC Extended Universe. They make for interesting adversaries and more to Teth-Adam. I had this fear that they would be shoehorned into the plot, but they play a vital role in the narrative and in Teth-Adam’s development. Black Adam would completely fall apart without them in many ways. The film picks up once they show up and never really lets off the gas after somewhat of a slow start. Their inclusion is a bit of a double-edged sword, because while they play a part, they could have been given more to do. You must introduce these brand-new characters and give them arcs. They fit, with Hawkman and Doctor Fate getting the meatiest arcs and helping to move the story and character of Teth-Adam forward. However, you cannot help but feel this might be a bit too much for one movie to chew. The other JSA members, Cyclone and Atom Smasher, get little to no character development at all and part of me feels like they may have been better served by sitting this one out. They add to the action sequences, but neither have what I would call good arcs. The JSA do their part to help develop our protagonist, but I wish we could have spent more time with them.
Remember when I said the screenplay did too much and too little? The Justice Society fall into the category of doing both, and then you have the bad guy known as Ishmael Gregor (Marwan Kenzari) who gets far too little. The Justice Society of America could have served as a primary antagonistic force to Teth-Adam and the people of Kahndaq along with the Intergang crime syndicate, but things do not exactly play out that way. Intergang and Ishmael Gregor are the villains, however they are underdeveloped and unworthy of the JSA and Teth-Adam. Ishmael Gregor feels really thrown in there just so that the main characters have a singular big bad to fight. Imagine if you had put a focus on Teth-Adam and the JSA and their different approaches to dealing with the oppression that Intergang poses to the people of Kahndaq. Take Ishmael out and not much has to be adjusted to get to the end point. Not only that, but you rid Black Adam of one of the worst villains in DC cinematic history and could potentially spend more time with the JSA. We do not need a central figure to direct our hate of Intergang towards, we should just hate Intergang because they are oppressing innocent people. Ishmael does not do enough, nor does he have enough character of his own to be the villain of this film, Intergang as an organization does, even if they are just a bunch of nameless goons.
Back to the positives: the action in Black Adam is superb and seeing these sequences on the big screen was incredible. That first sequence with Teth-Adam just after he awakens manages to highlight elements of his character while looking great, and letting you know that this is not a character that you want to mess with. Black Adam’s brutality is not sugarcoated at any point during the film and his action scenes just scream that he is badass. Another highlight has to be the fight that Teth-Adam has with the members of the Justice Society. Not only do you get good action with multiple characters, but the visual effects are absolutely nuts. This was the moment that I knew the VFX team was going to do fine with the film. Making each member of the Justice Society look believable during an action sequence is not an easy task because each of them has such unique abilities.
Doctor Fate stood out to me because he looked the best of the JSA, I believed the visuals I was seeing were authentic. The trailers had me worried about how Atom Smasher would look, but even he turned out good for the most part. The action is big, bombastic, and believable, even if I still think the action in The Batman directed by Matt Reeves is better in terms of DC movies released in 2022. The Batman is going for a much more grounded and realistic style though, so you cannot really compare it with Black Adam, which has the feeling of a classic comic book that is clearly not set in a version of our world throughout. Director Jaume Collet-Serra crafts unique action sequences in Black Adam that make you feel like you are watching a comic book be brought to life on the big screen.
This film introduces a world of possibilities for the DC Extended Universe, which has been in dire need of a true direction for years. I not only want to see Teth-Adam again, but I also want to see the Justice Society. This story even introduces Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), a university professor and resistance fighter in Kahndaq and her son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui). Adrianna and Amon are just as important to Teth-Adam’s growth in the film, and they get started on their own arcs which I have no doubt will continue whenever we return to Kahndaq. They are not left incomplete in the way that Atom Smasher and Cyclone are, but rather, their stories are intertwined with Teth-Adam (like in certain comic arcs) and are mostly their own characters by the end.
There are appearances from characters like Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) that help Black Adam feel interconnected with the DCEU and like the beginning of what is next for the universe. I think the best comparison I could make would be that this film feels like something from Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The story is not perfect and there are a lot of things thrown at you in terms of new characters and world building. Not all the new elements work, but characters like Teth-Adam, the JSA, and Adrianna and Amon are interesting foundational pieces to build on and audiences will absolutely want to see more of them. The narrative of Black Adam hooks you in by giving these likeable key players good arcs, even though some are better than others. You will want to see what happens with all of them and how things end even though certain characters are given more depth. If you are retooling a cinematic universe, you must start somewhere, and this time it appears that DC and Warner Brothers may be on track to having something that will compete with Marvel and Disney.
Is Black Adam one of the best films of the year? No, it is flawed and part of me can see why the issues it has would keep others from enjoying it. However, at the same time, I cannot help but feel like certain people may be expecting too much from a comic book film. Black Adam excels at being a popcorn film, one with stellar action and visuals. It also has a protagonist with a compelling story and features Dwayne Johnson at his absolute best. The narrative could have been fine-tuned a little and Teth-Adam definitely deserved a better villain to fight, but there is plenty to love here. This is a comic book brought to life, warts and all, and the main characters of Black Adam, worldbuilding, and action and visual effects make this film so much fun. It also fills me with a ton of excitement for what the future holds for the DC Extended Universe and winds up being worth the ages I spent waiting for Teth-Adam to finally hit the big screen.
Black Adam is now available to watch on digital and on demand.