Review: The Rock’s Black Adam gives the DCEU its largest nothing

As Dwayne Johnson claimed almost three years ago, in his joining the DCEU, “The hierarchy of power in the #DCUniverse is about to change.” With the star’s new DC superhero release, indeed it has! There’s a new dire nadir in this shitshow. Its name, as for some reason ceremoniously unveiled only in the film’s final moments? Black Adam.

This aimless, derivative, shoddy, pointless effort is, if not the worst, at least the most unwatchable thing the DCUniverse has shat out. It feels like four episodes of a terrible streaming series smashed together into an incoherent, misguided mush.

Dwayne Johnson stars in the title role—that we, again, are only presented with in the finale, as if we’ve all been clamoring to hear this guy’s name. Finally, Black Adam! We all love that character! Those who genuinely do love him are sure to be disappointed with his presentation here, and Johnson fans unfamiliar with the character are sure to walk away with somehow less interest.

For the first act of Black Adam, those Rock fans are sure to be even more disappointed than they’ll end up an interminable two hours later. Johnson barely shows up. Instead, we’re first given this bargain-bin 300 of a B.C. flashback showing his origin story (sort of…?).

In some invented, vaguely-defined Middle Eastern country some 5000 years ago, an army of slaves are forced to mine for a magic rock called Eternium. You’d hope it was cryptocurrency commentary, but this movie is never so clever or self aware. Instead, it’s about how some new kid joins Shazam in getting the powers of gods and Elvis’s TCB cartoon lightning bolt on his chest. 

Black Adam costume available at Graceland.

In present day, the country is now being controlled by some kind of paramilitary force that seems maybe Australian(???), and they’re manipulating a Tomb Raider analogue to lead them to this crown that is apparently important for reasons that only briefly become apparent. There are so many MacGuffins in this thing, and they’re constantly cycling. If it’s not a rock—or The Rock—it’s a crown or a kid or some other garbage.

Our Tomb Raider—straight down to being a beautiful brunette in a tight blue tank top—indeed leads them straight to the crown. In that she just casually walks through this already-open tomb and presses “X” to jump across a gap to collect said crown. It’s completely unclear why she was at all necessary for this.

NONETHELESS! Once she gets it, the Oceanic Team Cobra storms the place, and she ends up pulling a Hail Mary by summoning the long-dormant, super-powerful Teth-Adam (Johnson, if that wasn’t clear).

This, in turn, sends an alert of some nature to Suicide Squad and The Suicide Squad carry-through Amanda Waller, who herself sends a squad to take down this new threat to THE HIEARACHY OF POWER IN THE DC UNIVERSE. The team? The abruptly montage-formed Justice Society of America (JSA): Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell).

Whenever this quartet is on screen, the film fully devolves into an at-best CW-level superhero production of wretched CGI, airbrushed costumes, one-dimensional caricatures, and sad attempts from old writers to write youthful romance and comedy. The group’s entire thing is that Black Adam should not be killing anyone—even members of an invasive military occupation that the JSA is otherwise doing absolutely nothing about. It comes close to making an anti-interventionist, anti-imperialist statement, but since this movie is dogshit, it all comes out as a sloppy goop of, well, dog shit.

It’s hard to even know how far to go in describing the plot of this movie, because it derails itself so constantly that it’s hard to even provide the thrust of the plot. One lame MacGuffin or dispute or whatever is resolved, and it just moves on to the next. There’s no real arc; it’s just a video game of arbitrary tasks and quests to complete with this barely-speaking hero.

Logically, that ends with (modest spoiler ahead) the movie’s most video game bullshit yet: an 11th-hour demon-villain who looks straight out of a 2000 Baldur’s Gate 2 cutscene.

But at least that last battle finally gives credence to the still-bizarre claim that the hierarchy of power in the DCUniverse is about to change. Until that point, Black Adam had largely just fought jeeps, helicopters, and a few flying jet-skis, so, sure—now it at least sort of makes sense.

What makes less sense is how dire the whole affair is. It’s offensive how much Black Adam cribs from the MCU—from the British “Doctor” who multiplies himself and has visions of how the rich, tech-suited hero (Hawkman) may need to make the ultimate sacrifice, to the goofy, enlarging, near-faceless man who is here Atom Smasher instead of Ant-Man. But it’s outright masochistic how much it needlessly compares itself to better films.

Black Adam is so concerned with specifying that its title character is an ANTIHERO that, not only does he verbally grumble that he’s “not a hero” a good dozen times, there are also two direct comparisons to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. That, along with a Rolling Stones-set montage that inevitably draws comparison to Scorsese, it’s like, “Why are you hitting yourself? Please stop reminding us of actual, good films about antiheroes!”

Actual Scorpion King CGI.

Ultimately, though, what’s oddest about the very odd, very banal Black Adam is that it gives Johnson the anti-T2 to his prior anti-Terminator, The Scorpion King. Both Schwarzenegger and Johnson began as hunks of meat sent in to act with about as much depth as one—cast as stoic beefcakes there to scowl and be huge in a VFX action showpiece. Sadly, Johnson started with not the iconic Terminator but the inverse: one of the most notoriously terrible VFX showpieces of all time. And now he’s circled back to again anti-parallel Arnold with another terrible VFX action showpiece where he plays a glowering antihero from another time who ends up protecting a teenage boy and his widowed mother. If we keep this inverse trend going, maybe that means Johnson’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines equivalent could actually be decent?

Grade: D

Black Adam
Director: Jaume Collet-Sera
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Runtime: 124 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Sarah Shahi, Marwan Kenzari, Quintessa Swindell, Bodhi Sbongui, Pierce Brosnan

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