To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘Black Adam’ has perfected the art of the dumb fun movie

Last week, to the delight of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and also me, the newest DC superhero film, “Black Adam,” was released. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, “Black Adam” is the 11th film (and 12th overall installment) of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).


The movie stars Johnson as Teth-Adam, aka Black Adam, a man who was granted the powers of Shazam (flight, super-strength, super-speed, invulnerability, lightning bolts, etc.) in ancient Kahndaq, a fictional country located in the Middle East, but was thought to have died. Five thousand years later, in the modern day, he has been reawakened by archeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) to find that Kahndaq is under the control of high-tech criminal outfit Intergang, the latest in a long line of oppressors the nation has faced since his apparent demise. To quell the chaos brought in by Adam’s resurgence, a team of superheroes from the outfit known as the Justice Society, composed of experienced heroes Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and rookies Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) is asked to intervene.


So to start off, let me just get this out of the way—”Black Adam” is a dumb movie. It’s not a movie that’ll make you pay close attention to its details, or a movie that you’ll leave the theater thinking about for a long time. But damn if it isn’t fun as hell the whole way through. Collet-Serra’s directing is alright overall but really shines in some of the action scenes, which as you can imagine make up a significant chunk of the movie. Some choices, like certain lines of dialogue, action shots or needle drops are downright ridiculous, but I got a sense that by chuckling at them I wasn’t making fun of the movie but laughing right alongside it, as if it knew exactly what it was doing.


The characters were largely a highlight of “Black Adam.” In the role of the titular anti-hero, the former wrestler Dwayne Johnson gave a slightly—emphasis on slightly—more complex performance than he has in his characters from recent memory. I was glad to see some of his comedic chops come out here, as the stoic Teth-Adam made for a solid straight man for other characters to bounce off. His macho rivalry with Hawkman which plays out throughout the film was also enjoyable to watch, Hodge’s Hawkman (real name Carter Hall), a bird-themed superhero with mastery over the unbreakable “Nth Metal,” who is also the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince (the latter is not mentioned in the movie), fit in perfectly as the no-nonsense team leader with unflinching morals, which as mentioned makes him clash often with the more ethically flexible Black Adam. Brosnan’s performance as the magical hero Doctor Fate (aka Kent Nelson) was standout, and he does quite well as the mysterious yet whimsical and sarcastic “old man” of the team. His and Hawkman’s long-standing friendship can be felt quite strongly in their scenes together. 


Rounding out our cast of superhumans are the two newbies, Cyclone (aka Maxine Hunkel) and Atom Smasher (aka Al Rothstein). These two get the least overall screen time of the main cast, but get some good moments and you will likely come out of the film wanting to know more about them. Of the pair, Swindell as the “Wizard of Oz”-inspired superheroine Cyclone gets a bit more to do, and they do a good job with what they’re given to portray the smarter, more well-behaved of the young heroes. Cyclone’s wind powers are also quite visually stunning, though maybe not every single one of them required a slow-motion shot of her spinning around. On the other hand, Centineo does an alright job overall as Atom Smasher. In the vein of Tom Holland’s “Spider-Man” performance, the character is more nervous, stammering and clumsy than his windy counterpart. The movie plays into this quite hard, with his power to grow to gigantic sizes often causing some mishaps, and some of the physical comedy is genuinely funny. One thing to note is that Atom Smasher is a prominently Jewish character in the source material, and this is unfortunately not referenced at all in the film, a fact which is only soured by the casting of the non-Jewish Centineo in the role.


The non-superheroic characters, on the other hand, were not quite as captivating as their flashy counterparts. Tomaz, as well as her superhero-loving son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) and comic-relief brother Karim (Mo Amer), are kind of just there for most of the movie, like superhero versions of the boring human characters in a “Godzilla” movie. They do all get their small moments to shine, however, and I do have to commend Sabongui in particular for his performance as a child actor, as well as his chemistry with Johnson.


On a small musical aside, the score by Lorne Balfe is also excellent and complements the film’s tone and characters very well, marking another win for DC’s films in the music department. The songs that play in certain scenes are also pretty good, though there are some laughably on-the-nose tracks like the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” and Kanye West’s “POWER” that play during certain fight scenes.


“Black Adam” actually does attempt to go a little deeper than it needed to, though the results of these attempts were somewhat mixed. Black Adam’s debate with the heroes about whether killing as a form of justice against villains rings kind of flat, as characters like Hawkman who oppose Adam are portrayed as bumbling idiots with no depth to their morality, but as they are proven to be somewhat correct by the end of the movie, it’s left unclear what exactly the argument was supposed to be. There is also some reference to U.S. intervention in, and general Western subjugation of, nations in the Middle East through groups like the Justice Society and Intergang as well as the U.S. government itself as represented by DCEU mainstay Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). However, whatever message was trying to convey itself got lost fairly quickly in the heat of the plot and action. But, I suppose it’s nice that that aspect wasn’t completely ignored like it easily could have been.


Overall, watching the movie really felt like the filmmakers boiled down what makes a fun, dumb movie to a science, and I don’t really have a problem with that. So, if for some reason you were looking to Dwayne Johnson’s “Black Adam” to see some thought-out thesis about morality in today’s militarized world, maybe this movie isn’t for you. But hey, if you just want to have a blast for a couple of hours, give it a shot.


Oh, and if you’re a big DC fan, you may want to stick around for the post-credits scene…


“Black Adam” is available to view in theaters now.

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