Marvel movies are pure cookie cutter. You know exactly what you’re going to get when you see it start. The recipe has certainly evolved since Iron Man first came about, but it’s a clear and consistent experience. It’s a recipe that works (not withstanding how insanely intertwined the stories are now).
DC is not like that. The Batman Nolan trilogy is I guess the kick-off, but some would argue Man of Steel. Either works. Now think about the movies we’ve seen so far and how different they are. Justice League, Aquaman, Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn, The Batman… all of them share a common universe, but that’s pretty much it. This has produced some very different movies, with some impressive highs (The Batman is a joy) and some terrible lows (Justice League). You never quite know what you’re going to get when you sit down to watch one.
Black Adam is a weird movie, for numerous reasons. Which continues the DCU trend.
Black Adam, as a character, has been positioned as an anti-hero for years. He is fiercely protective of his country, going to extreme means to keep them safe from harm, making him their champion. Think Doctor Doom and Latvia. His methods are anathema to the golden age of superheroes, where the ends justify the means. In his mind, criminals have made their choice and the consequences are severe. In a sense, it’s Superman if he decided to be the arm of justice – ironically, the Injustice series is all about this. DCU has tried multiple times to present nuanced heroes… that has rarely worked out. They come off as goofy rather than gray.
The film also unveils the Justice Society (I know…) with Hawkman, Dr Fate, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher all trying to stop Black Adam for “reasons” and commanded by Waller. I’d like to say that this somehow makes sense, but it truly does not. The film’s entire setup is that Black Adam is a hero, and then this squad comes out of nowhere to attack him. It’s like the important part was edited out. Also, Cyclone and Atom Smasher are woefully underused. Hawkman is solid. Dr Fate is a weird one… but given his comics background understandable. I still think it works.
Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam is just a wall of muscle. Holy cripes. It’s insane how physically dominating he is on screen. As a character, he doesn’t develop in any meaningful sense, but he’s also not just “The Rock in a superhero suit”. I am glad to report that he doesn’t smile and has quite a few sarcastic quips throughout. Minus a few head scratching scenes, his character checks all the boxes and is fun to watch. Like stupidly fun to watch. His throne scene at the end is a nice touch.
I won’t talk about the villain aside to say that it’s really not good. Like Ares not-good.
This won’t be popular, but my largest gripe here is the young actor put in a position to be the heart of the film. He’s meant to be the grounding part, where we can relate to the larger stakes and storyline. It is a critical role and for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work like it should. One scene in particular near the end feels like a B movie, completely un-earned. I am not sure if this is the writing or the editing. Maybe it should have been split between multiple characters, or the character had some vested interest in the stakes. They just end up being a plot device.
The end result is a mechanically challenging film, but a fun popcorn flick. The sum greatly exceeds the parts, and there is no denying the sheer joy of watching a human the size of Dwayne Johnson be a superhero. As much fun here as watching Arnold in Conan. It helps tremendously that the movie slate right now is a hot mess of nothing, giving this film time to make an impact. It’s a fun watch, and right at this moment, I think we can all appreciate that distraction.