Black Adam – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 5 minutes, Director – Jaume Collet-Serra

Having been imprisoned for almost 5000 years Teth Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is unleashed on modern day Kahndaq, with the powers of the gods, looking to finally finish long-sought revenge.

A cinematic depiction of DC’s antihero Black Adam has been in the works since around 2006. Dwayne Johnson has been attached to the role since not long after. While the character, and indeed the film which he leads, has likely taken different forms over that time – including having gone from the antagonist in a Shazam feature to leading his own film – you’d be excused when watching the film for believing that little has changed in that time.

As the central figure of Teth Adam (Johnson) is unleashed in the modern day city of Kahndaq, after having spent almost 5000 years imprisoned, his powers-of-the-gods lead to almost instant chaos and destruction. It catches the attention of the Justice Society, led by Pierce Brosnan’s Dr Fate and Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman. Their aim is to get Adam to say ‘Shazam’, thus removing his powers, before imprisoning him again so that he no longer poses a threat to the world. However, eventually, after a string of chaptered fight sequences which show off each character’s powers – including newbies to field work Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) – all must come together to defeat a potentially stronger threat which links to an ancient crown.

Admittedly, once everyone has come together there is a more direct feeling to the film. It no longer frantically jumps from character to character, feeling less crammed in and generally giving itself a bit more space to breathe. Not to mention a more solid answer to ‘who are we meant to be supporting here?’. Also along for the ride are Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) – the person who brings Teth Adam back in the first place whilst being chased down by mercenaries in a tomb where she believes the integral crown is hidden – and her superhero-obsessed son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui). The relationship between Adam and Amon strikes a feeling of a one-sided Shazam. Amon’s discussion of catchphrases and comic-books is met with a stony-faced, often silence and confused, response as the hero in front of him is more focused on getting revenge and answers.

It’s made clear that this particular hero doesn’t follow the rules. The trailers have highlighted that he’s a hero who kills, and certainly his constant flinging of people from great heights and distances solidifies this point. And while sometimes his responses and differing approach to the Justice Society is a potential source of humour there’s never quite a response due to just how straight the character is played. If anything it just causes him to come across as arrogant in his amoral nature and therefore brings an unlikable sense to the character. With all the constant reminders of Shazam, largely held in that relationship between hero and child which feel like they could just be outtakes from that very film, you sometimes can’t help but think of the character as Angry Shazam. There’s a strong lack of subtlety during one particular fight scene where various close-ups show superhero posters and logos being ripped and torn.

While there are some moments which manage to slightly pull you back in, and certainly this may prove to be amusing and watchable enough for some audiences – the humour may perhaps work better for others, too – the structure of the film soon gets in the way. There are multiple points where, while you know it isn’t, it starts to feel as if it’s bringing itself to a close before suddenly bringing in a new point and remembering to resolve something else. As a whole the film doesn’t feel divided up into stages, but you can occasionally – particularly in the second half – see the seams between ideas and sequences.

Again, there are those for whom Black Adam may prove to work for. Whether they be fans of DC – Zack Snyder fans may get a kick from a number of slow-mo sequences which feel to have been inspired by him – or simply people who have been looking forward to seeing Dwayne Johnson in this role for a long time. It’s a shame that the character doesn’t always come across with the perhaps PG-13 sense of amoral ‘fun’ that’s intended, and as a whole leads to a number of tonally confused scenes and instances. The film as a whole, while providing some watchable sequences within its lengthy action, simply feels weighed down by its structural and narrative issues that it never has the chance to fully take off. The promises that the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe is about to change now feel more akin to the character’s opinion of himself and his (undeniably insanely strong) powers than anything else.

Black Adam’s tonal inconsistency means that it never quite strikes the tone that it perhaps wants, instead occasionally feeling like a set of outtakes from a Shazam of 16 years ago with a more arrogant lead character. Bring in a fluctuating structure and narrative direction and as a whole it never quite fully comes together.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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