DC fans are rejoicing with the much-anticipated release of Black Adam on the 20th of October in Australia. Hailed as the most action-packed film in the DC extended universe (DCEU) to date, Black Adam is grittier and more violent than its 2019 predecessor, Shazam! In fact, Black Adam (Dwayne “the rock” Johnson) is traditionally known as Shazam!’s archnemesis in DC comics’ mythology. The film departs from the comics in numerous ways, made clear through the flashbacks and first twenty minutes of the film. We are taken back 5000 years to learn part of Black Adam’s back story as a slave bestowed the gifts of the gods. Originally named Teth Adam he acquires the same powers bestowed upon the protagonist Billy Batson from Shazam! by the mighty wizard (a role reprised by Djimon Hounsou). How Teth Adam comes by these powers is not clear until the very end of the film. However, it is apparent that he could not forget the wrongs done to him by his slave masters, using those powers for vengeance and resulting in his imprisonment.
Fast forward to present day fictional nation Kahndaq and we meet feisty resistance fighter Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), a university professor and her brother, an electrician. It is in an exchange between siblings as they run from oppressive overlords that the first smatterings of humour in the dialogue are evident. These quips and banter build throughout the film to lend levity and likeability to many of the main characters. After years of imprisonment, Black Adam is released by Tomaz only to fall afoul of the Justice Society, a roster of heroes led by the enigmatic Hawkman/ Carter Hall (Aldis Hodge). Along for the mission to subdue this new world threat, aka Black Adam, is the powerfully prescient Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), tempestuous Maxine Hunkel / Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and rookie Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) taking on the mantle from his uncle with a sweet but short cameo by Henry Winkler.
It seems that the only person who thinks Black Adam is a villain is Hawkman despite the fact he wields great power and seems to kill with reckless abandon. Yet it is clear very early on that Black Adam will only kill bad guys. After all, everyone who loves and knows Johnson would see that as an actor he’s very rarely played the bad guy since his first role as the Scorpion King. It would be no stretch to surmise that the reason Johnson’s Black Adam didn’t end up appearing as the villain in Shazam! as originally planned was perhaps because they wanted to take story arc for Black Adam in the hero direction (Johnson has long been involved as a producer on this venture). However, time and a few more films will tell whether DCEU’s Black Adam is indeed villain, vigilante, anti-hero, or something in between.
The mid-credits scene with Henry Cavill reprising his role as Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman is probably one of the worst-kept secrets on social media about the film. It is nonetheless satisfying to see familiar faces such as Cavill and Hounsou from the DC extended universe as well Viola Davis as Amanda Waller and Jennifer Holland as Emilia Harcourt.
Johnson wears the titular character’s mantle with ease and fits into the role as snugly as the wonderful costume design by Kurt and Bart (of Hunger Games fame). The question on everyone’s lips for most of the two hours four minutes running time is why we haven’t seen Johnson as a superhero before now?
A banging soundtrack includes motifs from hits such as the Rolling Stone’s Paint it Black. The soundtrack complements the spectacular action sequences and awe-inspiring special effects. Johnson carries the action well and is conspicuously missed when not part of it. During an extended action sequence close to the end of the movie where Johnson is absent, the action lacks the vigour of his presence.
Derivative in many ways, the storyline and characters all bear striking resemblances to many sci-fi and superhero tropes. From the Terminator/John Connor type dialogue between Black Adam and the teenage son of Tomas, to the End Game-reminiscent predictions of Brosnan’s Dr Fate. The film attempts to create space for itself in an already-crowded genre of epic, spectacular, universe-filled super powers. Audiences should not expecting any deep soul searching in Black Adam’s quest to establish where he lands on the continuum between hero and villain. The film delivers an entertaining and visually exciting romp.
Movie Review By Kim Burley