It’s no secret that the DC’s cinematic adventures in recent years have been inconsistent, at best.
While entries like Aquaman and Shazam! have proven successful, others such as Wonder Woman 1984 and The Suicide Squad films have failed to hit with audiences. (And that’s not even addressing the two hotly-debated Justice League cuts.) Now, with the release of Black Adam, the DC Extended Universe attempts once again to refuel with renewed focus.
And, this time, they may have actually done it.
Black Adam tells the story of Teth Adam (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), the iconic ‘champion’ of Kahndaq. Bestowed with the powers of the gods, Adam was believed to be the saviour of the nation but was imprisoned for nearly 5,000 years. However, when he is released from his earthly tomb by those in need of justice, Adam’s rage is unleashed upon the oppressors of his home country—and anyone else who stands in his way.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, Black Adam is a wild and frenetic affair that eventually becomes one of the better entries into the DC cinematic universe. While the pacing is erratic at first, Black Adam has a fire in its belly that anchors the film and makes it compelling. Throwing the film on his massive shoulders, Johnson takes hold of the DCEU and supercharges it back to life. Even in moments when the writing feels inconsistent, Johnson’s natural charisma helps keep the film focused and moving forward with authority.
In addition to its titular hero himself, Black Adam also introduces the Justice Society into their cinematic canon. Featuring characters such as Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centenio), the Justice Society is well-known in the comics but are finally making their big screen debut. Admittedly, their inclusion does feels jarring as the script tends to assume that the viewer already knows these characters. This makes for a bit of a wonky start to the film instead of launching cleanly. However, the performances are so fun that one can’t help but welcome them into the action as the film unfolds. (It’s also worth noting that Hodge has some wonderful chemistry with Johnson as the two heroes clash over their different ideologies.)
Although Zack Snyder’s name is unattached, Black Adam feels as though it was made in his cinematic image. Featuring highly stylized violence and slow motion action sequences, Adam‘s visuals fit very neatly the DC world that Snyder established with Man of Steel and Justice League. As a result, Black Adam feels like somewhat of a course correct from Warner Bros. as they attempt to restore the faith of diehard fans of Snyder’s work, while still chartering a new direction for the franchise. (In fact, without any spoilers, it’s worth noting that the film’s post-credit sequence is certainly a signal that what has come before is far from erased.)
So, while WB remains unwilling to fully restore the Snyderverse, perhaps they intend to repair it?
Although Black Adam seems to be one of the rare examples of the DCEU to have a sense of humour, the film is at its best when it’s not trying to joke around. Considering the gravitas that’s embedded within the heart of its central figure, the more serious moments are the ones that put the film at its best. Though he is begged to be a hero, Teth Adam has a heart fueled by a deep-seeded rage that stems from the scars of oppression and pain.
To him, being the champion requires a willingness to not play by the rules.
After all, for almost 30 years, the nation of Kahndaq has found themselves burdened under oppression and violence. From military checkpoints to flying hover sleds, the people are constantly under surveillance. (Incidentally, Kahndaq feels like a unique blend of the technological advancement of Black Panther‘s nation of Wakanda and the grounded realism of the modern Middle East.) Broken by subjugation, this is a culture that struggles to see the difference between right and wrong anymore, especially when one side claims to be doing things the right way. (“It’s easy to know what’s right and wrong when you’re the one drawing the lines of justice,” Teth Adam claims boldly.)
Interestingly, although virtually every other heroic character in the genre plays by some form of rules, Teth Adam is willing to break them all. Killing others without remorse, he constantly reminds those around him that he is no hero, even as they plead with him to become one. Although, ironically, this call to action seems to inspire the people. With Adam as their new ‘champion’, the people finally believe that they have someone who is hearing their cries. In him, they believe they have a model to reclaim power.
After all, for Teth Adam, the best way to end oppression is to end the lives of the oppressors.
Even so, Black Adam never loses its concern for the soul of its hero. Members of the Justice Society not only fight against evil, they also fight to redeem Teth Adam and his actions. They continuously cry for Adam to do the right thing, rather than succumb to his more violent tendencies. (At one point, Hawkman even warns him that “The more you give in to violence, the more it darkens your soul.”) But can one be heroic while allowing themselves to take the lives of others? This is the question that lies at the heart of Black Adam and actually makes it one of the more compelling entries of the DCEU.
While Black Adam is far from perfect, there’s no doubt that it flexes its muscles. Fun and furious, Adamsupercharges the DC extended universe and actually brings enthusiasm for the next chapter of its story. Though often brutal, Teth Adam’s journey to save Kandahq is compelling in its character work and thrilling in its action sequences.
But, more importantly, he may have also saved the entire DCEU as well.
Black Adam is available in theatres on Friday, October 21st, 2022.