Many years after its first announcement, the Dwayne Johnson Black Adam movie is finally here. The Rock has promised that the “hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change,” but does this fanciful boast have merit? Black Adam the character may have the power to take on Superman, but the movie is all lightning and sometimes forgets the thunder.
Nothing but heartache
Kahndaq was once at the forefront of civilization before it was wiped out in a battle between the Champion of Shazam Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) and a tyrant king wielding the crown of the demon Sabbac — as the intriguing prologue tells it. 5,000 years later, the well-funded criminal organization Intergang rules modern Kahndaq, and heroes like the Justice League or Justice Society haven’t helped — until archaeologist Adriana Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) uncovers the crown of Sabbac and unleashes Black Adam on the country.
That’s as complicated as the plot gets, really. Black Adam violently kills many Intergang soldiers, Adriana and her family try to keep the crown out of their hands while persuading Adam to be the hero they need, and the Justice Society comes in to put Adam down. Add a literal demon and that’s the story.
The biggest irritation about the storytelling is that a major twist was spoiled in the movie’s trailer. However, things remain pretty straightforward throughout — too much, in fact. The pretty competent Intergang’s motivations are never really laid bare and they eventually disappear. Characters impossibly know things, which happens a little too often in Black Adam, and at least one awful line — “the readout says it’s the demon Sabbac!” — will haunt my dreams.
The power of Shazam
That all said, when it comes to action and having a sheer all-out fun time, Black Adam delivers. All the action setpieces are amazing and very imaginative, whether it’s Adam attacking dozens of Intergang soldiers armed with magical weapons or taking on the whole Justice Society. Johnson’s Black Adam is incredible to watch, a ball of rage and power that is equal parts terrifying and exciting.
While it sadly falls into the all-too-familiar superhero movie trap of leaving the main villain to the very end and dispatching them quickly, Black Adam’s two-hour runtime is never less than thrilling all the way through. There isn’t a single moment that’s boring. It’s regularly funny, too, particularly anything to do with the very green Atom Smasher/Al Rothstein (Noah Centineo) and Karim (Mohammed Amer), although Adam himself is often amusing in a Terminator-like way.
Furthermore, hardcore DC fans looking for further DCEU vindication will find a lot to geek out about here. The biggest surprise was thoroughly leaked, but Black Adam contains other major cameos too who play a surprisingly big role, not to mention an intriguing new location straight from recent Suicide Squad comics. Plus, Adriana’s son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) is essentially Shazam’s Freddy Freeman, right down to a room stuffed with DC easter eggs. It’s that post-credits scene that’ll blow minds, however.
In terms of pure all-out superhero action, Black Adam delivers. Sabbac is an underwhelming villain but the constant fight setpieces are never less than stunning, with Dwayne Johnson a force of nature. The writing is regularly funny but the plot is simple, and there are some real dodgy lines in there. Still, it’s Black Adam’s expansion of the DC extended universe that’ll be the topic of the most conversation — especially that cameo.