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'Black Adam' (2022) Review: A Stale and Disjointed Antihero Kerfuffle

Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.

One of many theatrical one-sheet posters for, "Black Adam."

One of many theatrical one-sheet posters for, "Black Adam."

Killing People is Fine as Long as There's a Hokey Punchline

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Jungle Cruise, Unknown) with a screenplay by Adam Sztykiel (Scoob!, Rampage), Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, Black Adam is the 15-year passion project of Dwayne Johnson. Set in Kahndaq, a Middle Eastern region located between Egypt and Jordan, the superhero film focuses on a country of people suffering under military rule.

Dominated and pushed around for far too long, the people of Kahndaq have prayed and hoped for a superhero to save them to no avail. Their hope comes in the form of Teth-Adam (Johnson), whose powers are similar (in origin and abilities) to that of Shazam’s Captain Marvel. However, Teth-Adam (he becomes Black Adam later) is driven by a lightning infused rage and kills his enemies so they never have the opportunity to return. Released after a 5000 year entrapment, Teth-Adam’s murderous reputation catches the attention of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and the Justice Society of America.

Bouncy, Frenetic, Unsatisfying Action

Dwayne Johnson is now set in an advisory role for the DCEU and seems to be an integral part of the behind the scenes of where future films could be headed. With that said, Black Adam feels like the first step towards the DCEU regaining some sort of momentum. Unfortunately, Black Adam is lacking in nearly every aspect and is a lackluster tentpole film when it’s at its best.

The action sequences are the best part of the film, but they’re also not fully satisfying. They’re an improvement over how rubbery CGI doubles used to be in something like the Zod versus Superman battle in Man of Steel, but the jittery camera, quick character movements, and intense close ups make deciphering certain aspects of airborne brawls nearly impossible at times.

Aldis Hodge as Hawkman in, "Black Adam."

Aldis Hodge as Hawkman in, "Black Adam."

All Hail Generic Satan

The visual effects go back and forth in quality, as well. Everything involving Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) is incredible. Nothing measures up to his shiny gold helmet and scene stealing magical abilities, but the devilish villain Sabbac is computer animated about as well as a Mortal Kombat 4 character. Sabbac is also about as generic as you could get in design for a demon; a red devil with a pentagram on his chest and no personality whatsoever. The comic book version of Sabbac is this beefy and beastly big horned beast of a demon whereas the film version of him is clunky and is along the lines of the bestial form of Dracula in the 2004 Van Helsing movie.

No on screen chemistry exists between any of the actors. Pierce Brosnan brings the most charisma, but it feels like Dwayne Johnson and Aldis Hodge are trying to out brood one another. They both seem very similar personality wise except Hawkman doesn’t kill and wants the justice system to deal with criminals whereas Black Adam kills and takes justice into his own hands. Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Cintineo) are forgettable side characters. Their powers are useless in the grand scheme of things and the characters themselves are flat and uninteresting.

Pierce Brosnan as Dr Fate in, "Black Adam."

Pierce Brosnan as Dr Fate in, "Black Adam."

The Good, The Bad and The Monotone

The film also seems to take itself too seriously. The brief attempts at humor feel forced and are loaded with an insane amount of cringe. It seems like so many movies rely on the Terminator 2 story aspect of John Connor teaching the T-800 slang and trash talk. Black Adam recycles that here with a “totally bitchin’” skater boy named Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) who is trying to teach Teth-Adam cool catch phrases and how to properly be a hero. The stiff acting from just about everyone in the cast and unbearable lines of dialogue doesn’t help matters. It’s as if the screenwriters were trying to copy the formula of the worst Michael Bay Transformers films (that's all of them, by the way) and just shifted it over to a less interesting Omni-Man who has slavery in his back history.

Black Adam has a few cool deaths and some of the action hints at high levels of excitement, but the film itself feels like a disjointed mess. The opening of a guy being kicked into a pit, the color grade and look of the film, as well as the slow-motion effect that speeds up at times during action sequences only to slow down again all seem to be lifted from 300. Revolving around an antihero overshadows the actual villain of the film. Sabbac is this paper thin catastrophe where as Black Adam is this monotone cliché that at least has a somewhat intriguing origin.

Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam.

Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam.

A Dr. Fate Worse Than Death

The few highlights of Black Adam are either squandered by the end of the film or exchanged for the lowest form of mediocrity and disappointment imaginable. The post-credits sequence is all anyone is going to refer to when seeing Black Adam. The DCEU also felt like it rushed both Batman v Superman by trying to cram too much story and too many characters into one film in order to get to Justice League quicker. Black Adam does the same as it expects its audience to know already know the difference between the Justice League and the JSA as well as be familiar with the origin stories of most of these new characters as they barely seem to get much backstory.

With a horrid script, lackluster performances, and a waste of potentially awesome characters, Black Adam is an explosive, $195 million, anti-heroic dud. The DCEU is about to get way more convoluted and underwhelming than ever before if this is the future of live action DC films.

Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) and Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) face off in, "Black Adam."

Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) and Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) face off in, "Black Adam."

© 2022 Chris Sawin