Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jaume Collett-Serra
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Pierce Brosnan, Aldis Hodge, Sarah Shahi, Bodhi Sabongui, Marwan Kazari, Viola Davis, Djimon Hounsou, Mohammed Amer, Noah Centineo, Quintessa Swindell, Henry Winkler, James Cusati-Moyer.
Marvel has its anti-hero superheroes with the likes of Venom and Morbius, who have both been given their cinematic origins stories. And now the DC cinematic universe introduces us to its own anti-hero in Black Adam. Black Adam was created by Otto Binder and C C Beck in 1945, and this film gives us a backstory for the character who was originally conceived as a supervillain. The script for this live action film comes from Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvan (the latter two worked on The Mauritanian), but it seems unnecessarily confusing for anyone not familiar with the mythology of the character. And this big, bloated production delivers plenty of action but gives us little that is fresh to the superhero genre.
The film opens in 2600 BCE in the fictional African country of Kahndaq. Teth Adam was a former slave who was given the powers of Shazam by the magical wizards (including Djimon Hounsou, briefly reprising his role from Shazam!). Tet Adam rebelled against the tyrannical ruler Ank-Ton who had enslaved much of his people, killing him but also causing much destruction in the process. Consequently, he was deemed unworthy of his powers by the council of wizards, who imprisoned him deep inside the Rock of Eternity where he remained for 5000 years until he was freed by Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi, from tv series Person Of Interest, etc), an archaeologist and rebel freedom fighter who is engaged in a guerilla war against Intergang, a mercenary force that has occupied her country and exploited it in the search for resources.
His sudden arrival on the scene is noted by US government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the head of the shadowy Task Force X, who declares him a threat and sends the Justice Society out to capture him and contain him in her high-tech underwater prison. The Justice Society is led by Kent Nelson (former James Bond himself Pierce Brosnan), otherwise known as Dr Fate, who derives his mystical powers of sorcery from an ancient helmet that also allows him to glimpse visions of the future. The Society also consists of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge, from Straight Outta Compton, etc); Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo, from tv series The Fosters, etc), who can control his molecular structure and grow in size and strength; and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell, from Euphoria, etc). The Justice Society, which was created Sheldon Mayer and Gardiner Fox in 1940, was the first superhero team created for the comics, but here it merely seems like a B-grade cross between DC’s own Justice League and Marvel’s X-Men. A couple of the Justice Society characters remain underdeveloped while the main focus is on Dr Fate and Hawkman, who try to convince Adam to use his powers for good and become the hero that Kahndaq needs.
Of course, Adam refuses to give in without a fight. But he has also earned the trust of Adrianna and her streetwise teenaged son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) after rescuing them from armed killers. She takes the Justice Society and Dr Fate to task, asking where they were when the people of Kahndaq needed their help in escaping the clutches of the tyrannical corporation that occupies the country and is systematically exploiting its riches. The film also revolves around the search for the mythical crown of Sabbac, which is made from the fictitious element Eternium, which gives its wearer unlimited powers. The crown has come into Amon’s possession and he and Adam try to keep it out of the hands of the ambitious and power-hungry Ishmael (Marwan Kanzari), who is a descendant of Ank-Ton.
Dwayne Johnson makes his first foray into the superhero genre here with his role as the indestructible Black Adam, although he did previously voice the character of Superman’s pet dog in the animated League of Super-Pets (in which he also appeared in a post credits sting as Black Adam). Johnson has the perfect physique to play a superhero and don a body-hugging spandex suit, and he has a brooding, taciturn quality that suits the character who learns what it takes to become a real hero and a champion of the people. He is apparently a fan of the character and has long expressed a desire to play the role should a film version eventuate. He brings a touch of his droll, deadpan humour to the character that makes him a bit more empathetic and complex than painting him the relentless killing machine that he could so easily have become. Shahi brings a feisty quality to her role as the determined and resilient Adrianna. Newcomer Sabongui has a nice presence as Amon, who is something of a superhero nerd and by far the most interesting character in the film; while Mo Amer brings touches of humour to the material with his role as Karim, Amon’s uncle.
As expected with this genre the CGI special effects are superb. The director is Juame Collett-Serra, who helmed a couple of those formulaic Liam Neeson action films as well as directing Johnson in the recent Jungle Cruise, a cheesy action adventure based on the Disneyland theme park ride. He is a dab hand at staging large scale action and maintains a fast pace throughout. The bruising special effects heavy fight scenes become unnecessarily repetitive and drawn out, but that is what the fan boys pay their money to see. As usual with these superhero movies the fights between the superheroes cause massive destruction to the city they are trying to save.
Black Adam is the eleventh film in the lacklustre DC extended universe, and it looks set to give Johnson yet another movie franchise. However, it is easy to become bored with this underwhelming, anodyne entry into the crowded superhero genre.