‘Black Adam’ Review: A Welcome Superhero Surprise

Well paint me green and call me a cucumber, this was a lot of fun!

“Black Adam” is the latest installment of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), and stars Dwayne Johnson in the titular role. In the film, Adam is awoken from his 4,600 year slumber and must adjust to his place in the modern world. Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Bodhi Sabongui, and Pierce Brosnan also star, while Jaume Collet-Serra directs.

I really wasn’t looking forward to “Black Adam” very much (of all the DC projects originally slated to come out in 2022, it ranked behind “The Batman” and “The Flash”), but I remain a decent fan of Dwayne Johnson (despite his insistence on being in seemingly every film Hollywood puts out). The DCEU has been a mess in recent years, with the likes of “Batman v Superman” and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” dividing audiences, “The Suicide Squad” bombing amid the pandemic, “Wonder Woman 1984” being, well, not good, and “Batgirl” getting outright cancelled despite having already spent $90 million on filming (and that’s not even mentioning the constant delays of “The Flash” due to the pandemic and star Ezra Miller’s legal issues). I’m not sure “Black Adam” (despite Johnson’s social media claims) will be the product that steers the ship fully back on-course for Warner Bros., but it is a fun superhero movie that lands in the top-third DC’s filmography and plays better than recent Marvel outings.

Dwayne Johnson is the world’s highest-paid actor, and until people stop showing up to his films it appears things will stay that way. Even with his serious line delivery and stoic disposition here, Johnson still manages to bring charm to the role, and while he does get outshined by some of his co-stars (more on that in a second), I think he is a solid rock (teehee) for the DCEU to build upon moving forward. I would’ve liked to see a few more fish out of water bits (there’s one good one involving a mirror), but least Johnson gets to continue his streak of always having at least one scene take place in a jungle.

Aldis Hodge’s stock has risen in recent years, appearing in 2020 hits “The Invisible Man” and “One Night in Miami…,” and he finally gets his chance to earn a blockbuster paycheck. His character (Hawkman) seemingly takes a lot of inspiration from the MCU’s Falcon, right down to the deadpan quips and desire for superheroes and society to both “do better.” Hodge holds his own in the battle scenes alongside Johnson, and delivers a few chuckle-worthy one-liners in the process. Noah Centineo plays Atom Smasher, a reluctant new hero who can grow to be the size of buildings (basically the DCEU’s own Ant-Man). Centineo has some funny jokes himself and they usually aren’t too forced, and he shares some nice newbie chemistry with Quintessa Swindell’s Cyclone.

The real scene-stealer, however, is Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate, a sorcerer who can see the future (not unlike Doctor Strange, if you’re catching onto the pattern). Brosnan adds some gravitas to the film but also gets to show a lighter side of his we haven’t seen much outside “Mamma Mia” and I hope we can get a spinoff focusing on Hodge, Brosnan, and the rest of the team.

The action scenes are pretty well-done, with the special effects looking much better than recent Marvel outings. The inspirations from Zack Snyder are clear (the opening scene set in 2600 BC feels ripped right out of “300,” from the slow-mo to the graphic novel style sets), but also Collet-Serra, who helmed the horror films “House of Wax” and “Orphan,” both entertaining to this critic, gets a bit gnarly with his kills. Since Black Adam is less of a superhero and more an anti-one, he isn’t afraid to take the life of a bad guy (“why let these men go, knowing they will cause future harm?” he asked Hodge), and whether it’s tearing a man in half or burning a soldier alive down to his bones, some of the battle scenes get very creative. There are a few wonky green screen shots but at this point, especially with so much VFX work being done remotely by overworked teams due to the pandemic, you take it with a grain of salt.

Aside from, ahem, “borrowing” from other superhero films, “Black Adam” also tries to offer a little bit of social commentary on the military industrial complex and foreign imperialism in Middle Eastern countries. Most of it is pretty on-the-nose and at times even cringe, and while it doesn’t really hurt the film as a whole it does feel entirely tacked on in an attempt to please a specific side of Twitter. The climax also feels like an afterthought itself, as I was preparing to grab my keys, round up my trash, and head out, only to realize there was still 20 minutes of movie left and the big final showdown still to come.

“Black Adam” is a fun surprise and welcome addition to the DCEU. It may not itself be a game-changer but it does lay the groundwork for an interesting future for DC (especially with the new head of Warner Bros. voicing his commitment to quality big budget films going to theaters). It is the most fun I’ve had watching a film like this in some time, and think that anyone who wants a dumb popcorn flick should get their jollies.

Critics Rating: 7/10

Warner Bros.

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