The hierarchy of power in the DC universe was supposed to change.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson promised us so in the lead-up to his 15-years-in-the-making superhero outing as the titular Black Adam. The walking, talking ultra-workout one-man brand (it’s about to drive, it’s about power) has been hyping up his first official entry into the superhero industrial complex as a seismic event. So much so that it would shift the entire hierarchy of power in Warner Bros’ most valuable IP movie franchise.
The hierarchy of power remains unchanged. Despite the myriad of hierarchy-of-power-changing events in the Warner Bros c-suite, as the company experiences a nearly cataclysmic corporate turnover from AT&T to Discovery, The Rock’s long-awaited comic book adaptation is a real low point for the now multi-decade boom that has defined modern movie-going.
Black Adam is a total disaster. It is the most soulless and artificial piece of “content” that the genre has produced in quite some time. There is nothing to grab onto here, from the absolutely draining opening narration that refuses to be engaging or interesting at all, to the complete and utter lack of a single character to care about.
The cast is not at fault here, not even Johnson himself, who is clearly more preoccupied with his producer role than putting on any type of real performance, even though that’s not why anyone watches these movies. The extended cast is doing their best with an embarrassment of a script, likely focus-grouped and re-edited to shreds. Long stretches of dialogue are artless deliveries of exposition, with the most ineffective attempts to keep audiences from dissociating and letting their minds wander outside the movie theater.
Aldis Hodge is here as Hawkman, a dollar-store dilution of Iron Man, Black Panther, and Professor X. He is certainly putting in the work, but the film does him zero favors. The same can be said for Pierce Brosnan and his hot sexy ascots as Doctor Fate, a sad approximation of Marvel’s Doctor Strange. To round out the Justice Society that is tasked with fighting Black Adam is Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher (a horse-sketch meme rip-off of Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man — see where I’m going here?) and Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone, a riff on Storm. They certainly all tried. I don’t blame them. If anything, this supporting cast is the lone shred of some type of life and energy.
Now, I know comic book nerds will jump to well-actually me about the film actually capturing characters with a long history separate from Marvel’s movies. I don’t care. Movie audiences have embraced the MCU. It’s the most successful movie franchise of all time. They know those characters. To come in 15 years late to the party and have every character be a shitty rip-off of something that we’ve seen already done better makes for a painfully dull and boring watching experience.
Save for the fine work of the VFX artists in a handful of action sequences, the artificiality of this movie extends from the drab sort of burnt color pallete and constant quick cutting to its lackluster story. It attempts to fit in themes of colonial occupation and warped heroism with little success. The biggest problem is the lack of character. We are not set up to care about any of these people, so it becomes impossible to be invested in their journeys and the obstacles along the way.
I’m sure many are familiar with the VFX breakdowns of most Marvel movies, and famous shots of Tom Holland and other actors’ disembodied heads being replaced on top of a full CGI costume. That’s the vibe of this whole movie. None of it feels real. It’s all barely stitched together with no real sense of desire to tell a compelling story.
I found joy and solace in the audacity for this movie to shift into Actual Demon From Hell territory in its final act, something it should have done much sooner. Finally, something truly bonkers and insane to grab my attention back from rethinking my life choices. It was too late to save the movie at that point, but it at least kept me from getting up and waiting in the lobby for my friends, which I genuinely considered multiple times.
This movie was so bad that it made me reconsider my thoughts on other movies. I was too harsh to think that they were a certain floor of quality. One example is Halloween Kills, which I finally got around to now that Ends has arrived. I bumped it up a full star when viewing it in comparison to Black Adam, the worst-case scenario of a movie as a corporate product I can recall. If DC is to make movies, they cannot let them rest on the shoulders of this one, as the mid-credits teaser seems to indicate. Please double down to projects like The Batman and Joker, true counterprogramming to Disney’s Marvel goliath.
I feel happy for Pierce Brosnan, who read this script and made sure to sign on for a massive payday without committing to a multi-picture deal. All while getting to wear the sexiest ascots since Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc. We’ll see if Glass Onion will give the belt back to Craig. In the meantime, that’s the highest praise I can give Black Adam. Best Ascot of the Year.
1 Teth out of 5
Black Adam is now playing in theaters.