‘Black Adam’ review: Dwayne Johnson stars as anti-hero in drab addition to DC universe


“Black Adam” features a protagonist of near-limitless power, which only makes its paltry script more conspicuous. Dwayne Johnson has a very limited range of expressions as the ancient mystic in DC’s latest superhero epic, a film that isn’t nearly as cool as its poster, while highlighting the inherent challenge of building stories around anti-heroes.

Originally a villain from the “Shazam” comics (aka Captain Marvel), the anti-hero formerly known as Teth-Adam is given his own origin story, one that involves gaining extraordinary powers in the mythical kingdom of Kahndaq, and then remain dormant for approximately 5,000 people. years until he wakes up. Their release comes from a researcher hoping to free her people, Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), who is searching for a mythical crown that also contains untold power and could, in theory, offer relief to a nation under the thumb of a corporation criminal known as Intergang.

Adrianna also has a teenage son (Bodhi Sabongui) who is well versed in superhero lore. As rather tepid comic relief, he cheerfully continues to try to coax Adam into saying catchphrases the same way young John Connor trained the Terminator over 30 years ago, which is as tired as it gets.

Indeed, while it might have been possible to poke fun at Adam’s unfamiliarity with modern conveniences, the film largely limits him to tough-guy sound bites, neutralizing Johnson’s screen superpower beyond that. of his imposing physique, i.e. his natural charm, much better. use in vehicles like the “Jumanji” revival.

What almost saves the film, but ultimately can’t, is its total embrace of comic book conventions and virtually non-stop action for much of its two hours. There’s also a grittier edge to the violence courtesy of Adam’s ruthlessness and repeated violation of the “Heroes don’t kill people” code, even if they’re, well, bad guys.

Of course, the trade-off for the relentless pace is that there is little time for plot or explanation. Once Teth-Adam shows up, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, reprising her role from “The Suicide Squad” movies) immediately dispatches members of the Justice Society, the original DC super team that preceded the League of Legends. Justice in comics, to fight it.

The assembled group consists of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), who leads them, accompanied by the magical Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and wide-eyed rookies Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), the latter feeling frankly demographically more suited to the Teen Titans.

While it’s really a power mismatch, as directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (who worked with Johnson to slightly better effect in “Jungle Cruise”), these scenes feel big and move along . But like the pre-Snyder cut version of Justice League, in its rush to replicate Marvel’s cinematic powerhouse, DC is basically trying to get away with skipping a few steps, just releasing the Society of Justice out there without fanfare or a dedicated introduction. – a less promotable prospect than a Johnson-starring film, perhaps, but a contributing factor to the awkwardness of this exercise.

There’s simply no getting around the awkwardness of the dialogue, or the sense of “Black Adam” overestimating the appeal of the character. Even a sequence during the closing credits that hints at a more dynamic follow-up doesn’t do as much as it should to whet the appetite for an encore.

As the times are, playing an actual superhero represents an inevitable addition to Johnson’s action resume, and “Black Adam” (DC’s League of Super-Pets aside) checks that box. However, after DC’s happy experience with the lighter-hearted “Shazam,” this drab addition to their universe only underscores how difficult it is to catch lightning once, let alone twice.

“Black Adam” opens Oct. 21 in U.S. theaters and is rated PG-13. DC and Warner Bros., which distributes the film, are units of Warner Bros. Discovery, same as CNN.

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