Star Rating:

Black Adam

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Actors: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Pierce Brosnan, Noah Centineo

Release Date: Friday 21st October 2022

Genre(s): Action, Sci-Fi

Running time: 124 minutes

Imprisoned over 5,000 years ago, Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is brought back to life and finds his homeland of Kahndaq under occupation by an international mercenary organisation. Fearing he may destabilise the region, the Justice Society of America sends Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) to restore order, but finds him on a path of vengeance against those who wronged him...

'Black Adam' has a crisis of personality, not just in the movie's plot, but in itself. When we're first introduced to Teth-Adam, he spends about five minutes throwing CGI characters around like rag dolls, zapping them with electricity, and generally being a superhero. When confronted by Sarah Shahi's character and her on-screen son, Bodhi Sabongui, he says that he's not a hero and never claimed to be one. Kahndaq, the fictitious Middle Eastern country where the action is set, needs one. Can he be that for them? Of course he can. It's all but certain that he's going to be that. Yet, still, he wants everyone to know that he's not a hero. Especially when he's being a hero.

'Black Adam' presents itself as this kind of antidote to the cookie-cutter superhero movie we've seen dozens of times before, that its hero is really an anti-hero, that he kills people when others would let them live, and that he fundamentally represents something different. Except this isn't really true. Batman, Captain America, and Iron Man - they've all killed people in the past. Sure, they might equivocate over and dodge around it, but that's really what they essentially do. Here in 'Black Adam', however, they want you to know that he does it and he doesn't care if you know it. Challenging stuff.

Dwayne Johnson is utterly miscast in the lead role. Sure, he's a physically fearsome presence on screen, twice the size of anyone standing next to him, but he isn't able to exude the kind of danger and threat that the role seemingly requires of him. More to the point, we're supposed to see this journey from grief-stricken avenger to superhero, but his performance is so one-note that it just can't get to either end. He's just hovering around the place, spouting trailerspeak dialogue and frowning at people. The only one who seems to have a handle on things is Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate, who's able to chew scenery like it's a fresh piece of gum. He even turns up in one scene wearing a nifty smoking jacket and a cravat, before rattling through his lines, and then disappearing into the sludge of CGI effects that surround the movie.

Jaume Collet-Serra's made a career out of unremarkably entertaining movies, perfect for an aeroplane screen. 'Jungle Cruise' was decent enough fun, and undoubtedly the reason he got the job here. 'Non-Stop', 'The Commuter', and 'Run All Night' were some of Liam Neeson's action highlights, and 'Orphan' is good, trashy fun. 'Black Adam', however, is clearly leaning on Zack Snyder's visual language to translate a relatively unknown quantity in Black Adam to an audience. There's lots of gold in the costumes, there's a lot of hand-wringing over powers, and there are slow-motion scenes set to Spotify favourites like 'Paint It, Black' (see what they did there?!) and Kanye West (which will probably be swapped out for something else in the home release). The reason for all this isn't that he's trying to blend 'Black Adam' in with the existing DCEU landscape - because that doesn't even exist anymore. It's probably got to do with the fact that Jaume Collet-Serra doesn't really have any unique visual style of his own. He's perfectly happy to look at what's been done before, take a few pointers, and generally just play it again with his cast.

Compared to something like 'Shazam!' or even lesser entries like 'Aquaman', 'Black Adam' is remarkably drab and bland. The CGI looks cut-price and sloppy, the dialogue is stock superhero schlock, and the plot is equally so. Even when it tries to say something interesting about the role of interventionism or power structures, it doesn't have the strength to commit to them in a meaningful way. 'Black Adam' blasts through the action, but it ends itself at a logical point and then strings the action on for another half hour, where a CGI villain in the shape of a Satan-inspired GigaChad appears for no particular reason whatsoever, all before it resolves exactly as you'd expect.

For a movie about an all-powerful, invincible being, 'Black Adam' is far too anaemic and riddled with problems for it to truly take flight.