Sunday, October 30, 2022

Black Adam: A Review (Review #1662)



Is it damning with faint praise if you said a film is "adequate" and "met its basic requirements"? Black Adam, the newest DC Extended Universe feature, is "fine". A pastiche of other films comic book and otherwise, it neither breaks new ground or stumbles so disastrously it is not enjoyable. 

In the ancient land of Kahndaq, a tyrant rules the land, forcing the population to mine for a rare mineral that when used, will be used to create a crown which will allow him to rule the world. A young child begins a revolt, and just before he is to be executed, he is spirited away to a group of wizards, who grant him great power when he says "SHAZAM!". He defeats the king and becomes a mythical Kahndaqi hero, Teth Adam.

Now, the nation is still occupied by outside forces. The occupiers are in a race to find the mythical Crown of Sabbac, but only archaeologist Adriana Tomaz (Sarah Shazi) knows where it is. She inadvertently leads Intergang (the occupiers) to Teth Adam's tomb. In desperation, she calls on Shazam, and up pops in the very-much alive Teth Adam (Dwayne Johnson). He kills the Intergang troops, but he also has no compulsion of killing others.

Into this, under orders from Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sends in the Justice Society to contain Teth Adam. The members are led by Carter Hall aka Hawkman (Aldis Hodge). Joining him are his older friend Kent Nelson aka Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and two newbies: Al Rothstein aka Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Maxine Hunkel aka Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). Hawkman can fly, Doctor Fate can see the future and multiply himself, Atom Smasher can grow and shrink as needed and Cyclone can control the wind.

As they fight and attempt to reason with Teth Adam, they also must contend with saving as many lives as possible. Teth Adam is helped by Adriana's son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) but thwarted by Ishamel (Marwan Kenzari), who is connected to the last tyrant of Kahndaq. As truths are revealed and the fate of Kandaq and the world hang in the balance, sacrifices must be made. 

While the now-christened Black Adam may be a future enemy or antihero, a strange visitor from the planet Krypton comes to speak to him.

After watching Black Adam, my main takeaway is that it is "fine". It gave the viewer what I think he/she wanted to see in a comic book adaptation. You got lots of battle scenes, you got some quips, and a few twists that were not all that surprising. Black Adam hit every beat expected of it. As such, I cannot fault a film for meeting the standards I expect from it.

The curious thing about Black Adam is that one does not need to have an extensive or exhaustive encyclopedic knowledge of DC lore to follow the plot. We get a helpful voiceover introduction that sets up the Kahndaq BC era, and we do not really bother with long introductions of the Justice Society characters.

They pretty much pop up, and it is almost amusing that screenwriters Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani almost expect one to know who these people are. How else to explain young Al getting a quick telephone call from his uncle Al (Henry Winkler) asking him not to damage the suit. Black Adam did take stabs at some character development, such as having Atom Smasher munch on something often and suggest relationships that appear to be going back decades.

Every performance was exactly what it was meant to be, nothing more, nothing less. I do not think anyone would offer that Dwayne Johnson is an actor, unless you have been yearning for "Dwayne Johnson in Death of a Salesman". He was hulking and stoic as Black Adam, and while I can give him credit for attempting to be dramatic when we get his backstory, I would say his main purpose is to kill bad guys and leave one wondering if he was good or bad.

The interplay between Johnson and Sabongui (who was one of the standouts as the fanboy Amon) had a Terminator 2 manner to it: the robotic killing machine learning things like using catchphrases from the skateboarding teen. Swindell and Centineo as Cyclone and Adam Smasher (or as I called them, "Not Storm and Not Ant-Man") are starting out their careers, and they were fine. The roles were so limited that they could have easily been cut from Black Adam altogether without affecting the film. I suspect they were there to set them up for more DCEU films, but they did not do damage or elevate the characters.

They were fine, though Swindell was better as she, unlike Centineo, was not asked to throw in some "not MCU Peter Parker" stumbling for her character. 

Brosnan was there to be the elder statesman of the Justice Society (and as a side note, I would not know the difference between the Justice Society and the Justice League. Is the former like the AAA team to the MLB latter?). He mostly seemed amused to be in all this and bless him for attempting to make his end moving. It was not his performance that did not make this possible. It was the script. Try as Black Adam might, I could not work up emotion for someone I barely met. 

Two other standouts were Hodge as Hawkman and Shahi as Adriana. The latter was not quite a damsel in distress but not a whiny angry person either. Hodge for his part played the part to strong form, making Hawkman this leader who was also a loyal friend, one determined to see Black Adam join the present world but whom he would kill if necessary.

The visual effects were a bit hit-and-miss, especially at what is meant as the climactic battle. They were not among the best I have seen but they were not embarrassing either. Like everything in Black Adam, they were serviceable. It did feel like Black Adam, with one or two respites, was one long Kahndaq battle, but I did not think it wore out its welcome. It certainly was not overwhelming to the point of visual overload like Aquaman was. 

A lot of Black Adam felt like it was a remix of other films. I saw elements of Terminator 2, the MCU Spider-Man films, some X-Men films, even a dash of Deadpool. Not good, not bad, just fine. I never fault a film for being what it aimed to be. As such, Black Adam is fine.


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