Black Adam

Oh, I saw Black Adam, on opening night I think.

Spoilers ahead.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: Black Adam is a stupid movie. This is not really a surprise, but I feel like it needs to be said, because recently I was accused of being pre-disposed to like the movie because of my general bias toward DC over Marvel.

But it’s not true. The bias is real, I do like DC more than Marvel in general (though not necessarily with many of the movies). It’s probably what led me to go watch Black Adam at all–although it also helped that I was home alone with my two superhero-loving daughters and we were looking for something fun to do.

But I didn’t have high hopes. I have never been interested in Black Adam as a character, I don’t like “anti-hero” stories or characters in particular, and I’m not an especial fan of Dwayne Johnson.

And thus I think I have to say that if I were ever to make a countdown of “movies that I enjoyed more than I expected to,” Black Adam would be the highest thing on that by a country mile. This enjoyment is almost completely due to the movie’s energy, pace and visual coolness. The action scenes are decent fun and certainly Black Adam himself is an imposing figure. He often flies around in an upright standing position, casually smashing through walls and such, making it clear that there’s basically nothing that is an obstacle to the guy. At the same time the story does manage to work in a touch of vulnerability to the character which keeps him from being insufferably annoying.

I mean, he’s still annoying, but sufferably so. Dwayne Johnson’s approach to the character seems to be to espouse his pragmatic kill-your-enemies philosophy in low monotones while glaring a lot. Occasionally he pauses in these activities to do the fish-out-of-water thing (he’s frequently mildly confused about things) or to make a joke, which almost all feel out of place and fall flat.

The Justice Society, or an odd and slightly random variation of them, are also on hand. Most memorable is Aldis Hodge as Hawkman, who benefits from some cool design, but suffers from some terrible dialogue. Basically, he spends much of his time being the moral gatekeeper of what a hero is, mostly so Black Adam can constantly point out how that does not describe him.

Pierce Brosnan is also on hand as Dr. Fate, a character who is sort of like a more tortured version of Dr. Strange. The veteran actor provides the movie’s gravitas, particularly in an extended sequence where he dies heroically. (Incidentally, I only recently watched some episodes of Smallville which featured Dr. Fate, and he died in those ones too).

Rounding out the super-powered supporting characters are Atom-Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Qunintessa Swindell). Atom-Smasher is a guy who can grow to gigantic sizes, but generally ends up tripping and falling down a lot. Cyclone is a girl whose power is to keep her impressive hair in perfect order as she spins around in a whirlwind. The effects around her are dynamic but a bit silly, and it always looks like she is having to expend a huge amount of energy to just move forward a few meters.

These guys are all around to be first opponents for Black Adam to fight, and then to be allies when other bigger bads reveal themselves. The progression of this covers all the story beats that we would expect, but in the most obvious and broad-stroked way possible. There is a particularly predictable sequence where Black Adam is suddenly taken out of the picture for a little while, just so everyone can realize how much they need his help a bit later. The sequences are visualized in exciting ways but it’s paint-by-numbers storytelling.

Paint-by-numbers, punctuated by moments of utter dumbness, that is. Like when the annoying skateboard kid somehow inspires a panicked mob to rise up against their enemies by moderately yelling at them, or when a depowered, emaciated, confused, just-woken-up-from-a-coma Black Adam is able to single-handedly beat up a whole bunch of soldiers, or when the movie inexplicably re-creates the style of the climactic shoot-out of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for a fight scene between a super-hero and some ordinary soldiers.

The one moment that is not necessarily paint-by-numbers is the backstory about Black Adam’s son being the actual ancient defender of his country Kahndaq (a fictional stand-in for Egypt / Iraq / etc). It’s all a bit convoluted and confused, but does attempt to give the character a unique and surprising motivation. It was however, completely ruined by a single line in the movie’s trailer, which could have been really annoying, but thankfully the movie is too stupid to generate that sort of response from me.

And still with all of that, I enjoyed watching it. Comparing it to the rest of the DCEU, it’s less indefensibly stupid than Wonder Woman 1984, less badly told than Suicide Squad, less gross than The Suicide Squad, and less full of itself than Batman v. Superman. It’s nowhere near as good as Wonder Woman, of course, and less enjoyable than Shazam! Maybe I’d put it on par with Aquaman?

Oh, of course I can’t finish this article without talking about the movie’s notable post-credit scene, which featured the return of Henry Cavill as Superman. he scene itself is fine, though not anything special aside from just having Superman at all–“Big Blue” has been conspicuously missing from the DCEU for a while. He had a below-the-neck cameo in Shazam! and a silhouetted appearance in Peacemaker, but this is the first time we’ve had a clear view of Cavill’s clean-shaven face since Justice League. Dwayne Johnson, who may be as powerful in Hollywood as his character is in this movie, has been pretty outspoken about wanting to see Black Adam face off with Superman, so maybe that means the supposed flagship character of the whole brand may get some cinematic attention? That’d be nice–and maybe make this whole Black Adam thing worth it.

(As long as it doesn’t mean that they suddenly feel like they have to cancel Superman and Lois, out of fear of “diluting the brand.” Note to the guys in charge: there is no possibility of that happening with “Superman” at the moment–the character has been so under-used that every appearance still feels like an event.)

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