Black Adam, the latest DC superhero movie in the DC Extended Universe, is more of Shazam! sequel than the marketing admits. However, it is somewhat irritating that the Wizard Shazam is here, the magic transformation word “Shazam!” is said a whole bunch but Shazam himself isn’t mentioned or appears. The movie closely emulates two solid DCEU entries, Shazam! and The Suicide Squad, however this isn’t nearly as good as either. It is basically extended action scenes on top of each other that sometimes slows down for quips, sometimes slows down for pathos, and has the main character wreck people. Human characters introduced early on are dropped rather inelegantly to make room for super heroics, and it ends on a gratuitous universe building mid-credits teaser. It is exhausting and/or exhilarating. Still, watching a superpowered The Rock smacking down baddies for about two hours does have legitimate entertainment value.
Teth Adam (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) was a slave thousands of years ago but was reborn by wizards with the magical word “Shazam” and was then imprisoned for his reckless killing spree. In the modern day in the country of Kahndaq a resistance fighter, Adriana (Sarah Shahi), is fighting against the military overlords of Intergang for a better future for her son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui). She unlocks Adam and he immediately goes on a rampage against all enemies. One of Adriana’s former associates, Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari), is in cahoots with Intergang and wants to acquire a special crown from Adriana that will give him powers. Amon is super-excited to have his own superhero and wants to teach him cool moves and catchphrases but Adam is busy taking down the colonizers of Intergang. This leads to a cadre of superheroes known as the Justice Society to stop him: Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). But as bad as Adam is, there’s a bigger danger in letting Ishmael get what he wants.
Johnson as Adam certainly looks the part, and his years of action movie and wrestling ensures he’s able to strike impressive superhero poses. Adam has a great introductory scene when takes out an entire army single-handedly. He simply just flicks his fingers and starts melting people with lightning, or offhandedly catching missiles, or moving so fast everyone else is in slow motion as he stuffs a grenade inside some poor sap’s mouth. These superhero tricks have been seen beforehand but the fact that all of it happens at once makes it impressive. There’s some amusing smashing as Adam casually walks through walls. His origin flashbacks have a few surprise twists and give him some amount of sympathy. It’s not the most charismatic the Rock has been, but he does seem unstoppable. He also gets in some darkly funny moments like when he’s trying to dish out a cool catchphrase, but he keeps killing the Intergang goons before he can say it.
A chunk of the first half of the movie is devoted to Adriana and Amon as the two regular mortals who end up with Black Adam hanging out at their house, along with Karmin (Mohammed Amer) as Adriana’s brother who is there to make quips. A lot of Amer’s moments are actually pretty good, like when Doctor Fate tells him his death would involve electricity, so he takes on an entire undead army by himself. Shahi has some exposition and then is just the worried mom and Sabongui geeks out when he tries to tell Adam about being a superhero while Adam just ignores him. However, the movie basically forgets about the family when the Justice Society shows up.
Brosnan as Fate brings the cool as Doctor Fate spends a lot of time as a CGI effect but Pierce Brosnan’s voice adds a lot. He has an inherently tragic super-power of precognition which Brosnan uses effectively for emotional effect. Atom Smasher is good for some chuckles and big smashing while Cyclone has large scale effects. There’s one scene when Atom and Cyclone chat about how they got their powers which makes them relatable. Hawkman kind of just snarls a lot about he and Adam or Atom Smasher are going to have words but has striking action moments. As the villain, Kenzari eventually becomes a giant superpowered bad guy randomly at the end. He is not an impressive antagonist, but he is dispatched in a gleefully messy way.
The constant barrage of action can be sort of off putting but it does commit to large scale chaos. It makes this sort of a Fast and Furious style superhero movie where it’s wheeling from one action scene to the next. But it is successful, and the CGI is well done. There are a few characters that pop up from previous DCEU movies as two vets from The Suicide Squad add context to where the movie is in the DCEU. And the movie closes with a surprise return that is shameless sequel bait but it’s nice to see that actor back after a long absence.
This is not one close to any of the best DC comic book movies, but Black Adam does deliver spectacle. It adds some interesting new characters to the DC roster, and it is refreshingly honest about just wanting to have superhero smashing for a few hours. It’s not deep but it is chaotic fun.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Mo Amer. Bodhi Sabongui and Pierce Brosnan