A Kanye West music cue hits different these days, but it’s fitting for DC’s Black Adam (★★☆☆☆) to have its quick-tempered antihero enter swinging to the beat of hero-turned-villain Ye rapping “Power.”
“I’m living in that 21st century/Doing something mean to it/Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it/Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it/I guess every superhero need his theme music,” might have been written for Black Adam, who emphatically does not consider himself a hero.
Still known by his true name, Teth-Adam, and played with unflappable deadpan sarcasm by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, he once was a slave in the fictional (but Arab-coded) kingdom of Kahndaq.
Endowed by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) with godly powers, he rose to be a champion, then for 5,000 years was entombed and forgotten, before being awakened by tomb raiders in the present day at the start of this rock ’em-sock ’em origin story directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Jungle Cruise).
Adam’s ready to kick ass from the moment he wakes up to find himself facing soldiers from Intergang, the ruthless force that’s occupied modern Kahndaq for decades, oppressing the nation’s people.
Teth-Adam couldn’t care less about the country’s political struggles, but rebel Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) and her courageous son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) believe he might be the champion to liberate their people. Because maybe Kahndaq doesn’t need another hero, but just someone with the power to topple Intergang by any means necessary.
Super-fast, super-strong, practically invulnerable, and able to wield lightning, Adam has the necessary means, but will he get involved? To what purpose will he use his great power is the question that drives the film. When all else fails, should good people rely on bad guys to solve their problems?
In the movie’s gnarliest action sequence, Teth-Adam floats slo-mo through an army of Intergang soldiers, blithely decimating dozens of men in what amounts to a few seconds in real time.
In PG-13 style, he rips off an arm or two, whip-slams foes into the ground, tosses others like a shotput to their deaths, and electrocutes dozens more. The real-world and fictional implications of sending in an amoral killing machine to wipe out an occupying army definitely intrigues.
But the film doesn’t build on the theme with compelling characters or storytelling about who or what Intergang is, or what Kahndaq and the rest of the world have tried in order to oust them from power. And a subplot about Intergang chasing after an ancient crown cursed with demons just feels routine.
In essence, the liberation story serves as a mere framework for the movie’s true intentions: world-building in the DC Extended Universe. To that end, Adam is pitted against actual heroes enlisted by Suicide Squad commander Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the queen of coercing bad guys to do good deeds.
Given the character’s multi-film history of marshaling villains, it’s odd to see her working this time out with the Justice Society, represented by Hawkman (Aldis Hodge, in the movie’s most dynamic performance), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan).
Waller calls in the Society to contain Adam, but he won’t be contained. So they battle and battle, until they band together against a common enemy, then battle, battle, battle some more. Few would argue that Black Adam offers the best superhero action in the genre.
Unfortunately, with the exception of the aforementioned slo-mo sequence — very similar to the fan-favorite Quicksilver scenes in the X-Men movies — the action that Collet-Serra and company come up with amounts to a lot of punching and flying. And those fights and chases aren’t constructed with much intricacy or invention.
The golden-hued visual effects look fine — Adam and Hawkman battle memorably in the skies over Kahndaq, and clairvoyant sorcerer Fate often deploys striking, reality-bending magic. But for the most part, we’re watching Black Adam play whack-a-mole with nameless, overmatched Intergang thugs, and it gets old.
The film more than hints in its mid-closing credits sequence that somewhere in this universe of heroes and antiheroes, Black Adam might actually meet his match. Will they do more than just brawl and wrestle over who gets to be the good guy? Either way, they’ll all make great-looking action figures.
Black Adam is Rated PG-13 and is playing in theaters nationwide. Visit www.fandango.com.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!