Dwayne Johnson’s DCEU Debut Is Action-Packed To A Fault

Jan 5, 2023

Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe has seen some drastic changes in recent years, from release date adjustments to creative shifts, not to mention the surprise shelving of Batgirl. If there is one thing that has remained consistent, though, it is Dwayne Johnson’s insistence that his long-awaited franchise debut, Black Adam, will change the hierarchy of the fictional universe forever. The long-term effects of this movie have yet to be revealed, but as an introduction to one of DC’s biggest anti-heroes, it gets the job done. Devoted fans of the DCEU will find much to enjoy here, while those more worn out by superhero antics might not be won over by Black Adam’s action-packed nature. Though suffering from repetitive plot beats and thin characters, Black Adam is powered by Johnson’s performance and its promise of an exciting future.

After an exposition-filled prologue set in ancient times, Black Adam brings its focus to the present day streets of the fictional country of Kahndaq, where a villainous organization known as Intergang keeps its citizens under military rule. Archeologist Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) has been searching for a devastating artifact known as the crown of Sabbac (Marwan Kenzari), so designed to give its wearer the powers of Hell. Her search brings her to a tomb that houses not only the crown, but the all-powerful Teth-Adam (Johnson). Once a Kahndaqian slave, Adam was given the powers of the gods thousands of years ago and used them to wipe out invaders from Kahndaq. Now that he’s been reawakened, Adam turns his sights on the members of Intergang, and it isn’t long before his violent tactics catch the attention of the Justice Society of America, led by the far more traditionally-minded Carter Hall (a perfectly heroic Aldis Hodge), aka Hawkman.

Related: So, Where Is The Justice League During Black Adam?

Sarah Shahi amd Pierce Brosnan in Black Adam

If there is one thing Black Adam has no shortage of, it’s action. From the explosive first moments after Teth-Adam wakes to a ground-shaking clash in the streets of Kahndaq, director Jaume Collet-Serra stages numerous set pieces that feel appropriately epic when considering the movie’s lead. Black Adam is one of the most powerful beings in the DC universe, and his movie establishes that quickly. Johnson has spoken openly about his character’s brutal nature, and Black Adam makes no attempt to soften it. This is a comic book character who has no qualms about killing his enemies, and his violence — still softened somewhat for a PG-13 rating — is actually rather refreshing in that it doesn’t try to sand down his darker edges. However, Black Adam’s reliance on action over plot and character development grows thin. Writers Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani don’t let the movie breathe; there’s barely any time for the characters to interact between each pulse-pounding action sequence.

As a result, some characters suffer. Hodge’s Hawkman, while not getting a lot of backstory, very clearly establishes himself as the purest type of hero and a strong leader. He has a compelling dynamic with Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), another member of the JSA whose powers are somewhat thinly defined, but impressively rendered. Hodge and Brosnan go a long way in making viewers invested in the friendship between these two characters since there isn’t as much on the page. As Cyclone and Atom Smasher, the JSA’s younger members, Quintessa Swindell and Noah Centineo have some charming moments but little depth. Swindell is still a standout, though; they give Cyclone a quirky, endearing personality. One can easily see how the JSA might be tapped to lead their own project down the line, but Black Adam is less of a JSA vs. Teth-Adam movie and more of a Hawkman vs. Black Adam showdown. Their conflict is far more compelling than the fight that emerges between the various heroes and the movie’s actual villain, the demonic Sabbac. Though the plot involving the crown of Sabbac is present from Black Adam’s opening minutes, it constantly feels like an afterthought as Collet-Serra puts more focus on the fight for Kahndaq and Adam’s constant clashes with the JSA.

Dwayne Johnson and Aldis Hodge in Black Adam

There’s no question, though: Black Adam is Johnson’s show. The Rock gets to play a bit against type here by tapping into Adam’s darker side. Johnson doesn’t offer many wise-cracks, nor does he rely solely on his impressive physique. He’s far more serious, which makes his rare moments of softness feel all the more effective. One wishes the Black Adam script might’ve trusted Johnson a bit more, though. There are so many conversations about Adam’s morally gray worldview that there’s an impression the screenwriters doubted audiences would understand he isn’t like most heroes. What Adam’s characterization lacks in subtlety, though, it makes up for in intrigue. With Adam now a player on the board, there is genuine interest in seeing what lies ahead for the DCEU. A post-credits scene that has already leaked online (but won’t be spoiled now) hints at a thrilling future for Black Adam, and it will no doubt leave fans eagerly speculating until a sequel is announced.

Black Adam isn’t necessarily the smartest superhero movie, nor is it the most entertaining. However, it’s still a fairly compelling introduction to one of the more intriguing characters to emerge from the DCEU. Johnson has been working to get Black Adam made for years now, and his passion for the project is evident from almost the very beginning. Its action-packed nature can be exhausting, and certain characters beg for more attention, but as an origin story for Teth-Adam, it succeeds in upending what viewers might’ve expected from Johnson’s live-action superhero debut.

Next: Tar Review: Blanchett Is Phenomenal In Todd Field’s Riveting, Powerful Drama

Black Adam releases in theaters Friday, October 21. It is 124 minutes long and rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, intense action and some language.

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