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The Rock’s Passion Project Is A Drab Slog Through Superhero Clichés

Jan 9, 2023

Jesus Christ, am I ever tired of superhero movies. Maybe you’re not, in which case, you should close the tab and move on; anything that follows doesn’t matter because superhero movies are critic-proof, hence their limitless boosting (in funding, in marketing, in overall dominance) by a risk-averse industry. But maybe you’re here because you’re a little tired of them, but not all of ‘em, not the good ones, and you’re wondering if maybe DC’s “Black Adam” is one of those occasional good ones, like “Black Panther” (well, the first three-quarters) or “Wonder Woman” (well, the first three-quarters) or “Thor: Ragnarok” (well, the first – you get the idea). And if that’s your question, I can assure you that this is not the case with “Black Adam,” a joyless, glacially paced compendium of interchangeable scenes of people floating around in their goofy masks and capes, tossing clichéd dialogue and CG lightning bolts, and punching each other into buildings. It’s just all so profoundly, undeniably silly – and it’s depressing, frankly, that this is apparently the only thing people want when they go to the movies.
Nevertheless, let’s press on. “Black Adam” begins with a ten-minute faux-“300” prologue with more voice-over than your average audiobook, and I could easily hit my word count just trying to summarize all the necessary “world-building” and front-loaded exposition. Suffice it to say that it’s set in Kahndaq, a fictional Middle Eastern country populated by “the first self-governing people on earth,” but they’re enslaved by a king who then forces them to dig up a mysterious material called “eterenium” (“unobtanium” was taken) to build him a magic crown. To fight back, Teth Adam (Dwayne Johnson), a leader of the brewing uprising, is “empowered with the gift of the gods” but trapped in his tomb for thousands of years.
READ MORE: Dwayne Johnson Says It’s “Absolutely” The Plan For Black Adam To Fight Superman: “That Is The Whole Point Of This”
Cut to present-day Kahndaq, where Adriana (Sarah Shahi) is attempting to gain an upper hand on occupying forces by retrieving the magic crown from that same tomb. (Or something. The storytelling could politely be described as foggy.) After some flaccid “Tomb Raider” stylings, as Adrianna and her painfully unfunny brother Karim (Mohammed Amer) go into the caves, they’re thwarted by traitors to the cause, and whoopsie-doodle, they awaken Teth Adam, who kills pretty much everyone but them. It’s a big, epic fight scene (scored, stupidly, to “Paint it Black” by the Stones – BLACK, get it??), but as has become the norm, the effects are phony and weightless, even for these sorts of things, and thus the stakes are non-existent.
And then it switches gears into something even less promising: suddenly Viola Davis is putting together a team, and this viewer’s heart was filled with fear that the entire film was an undercover operation to unleash the “Ayer Cut” of “Suicide Squad.” But no, she has charged Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) with organizing a new iteration of the “Justice Society,” which sounds like such a flea market bootleg version of the Justice League that it gets the biggest laugh in the picture. 
And yes, I know, the Justice Society has been around for decades, and its characters often preceded later Marvel characters with similar traits, but it nevertheless contributes to the knockoff vibe of it all to run down the Justice Society members: the aforementioned Falcon Hawkman, a birdlike superhero who flies with giant metal wings, Dr. Strange Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), who can see the future; Storm Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), who controls the weather; and Reverse Ant-Man Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), who can make himself gigantic. 
But the whole movie is like that, comprised of spare parts from other superhero movies because it’s apparently not enough to keep remaking the same shrug-worthy origin stories – you also have to include a bunch of the same elements as well. So Karim’s big character flourish is that he has (I’m not making this up) a cassette of vintage soft-rock tunes, and Johnson is seen in a flashback de-bulked (a la “Captain America”), and when Dr. Fate is inside his mask, he’s framed in the exact same close-up as Robert Downey Jr. inside the Iron Man suit. Is that just an existing template at this point?
Poor Brosnan tries his very best to create a character, but everyone else all but waves around the paychecks. And Johnson just spends the whole time glowering and scowling, a spectacularly poor use of a once charismatic and infectiously likable actor. Sure, he was built up as “the new Schwarzenegger,” but that didn’t mean he should play everything like the Terminator. 
The central conceit of “Black Adam,” that the character is less a conventional superhero than a thorny anti-hero is a good one, and a little thematic tension in these rote exercises would be welcome. But the filmmakers never bother exploring it beyond the most obvious, surface reading – Adam insisting, “I’m not a hero,” Hawkman announcing, “There are only ‘heroes’ and ‘villains,’” just the dimmest imaginable signposting. And director Jaume Collet-Serra gives the picture none of his distinctive gonzo flavor or exploitation energy; as with “Jungle Cruise,” he surrenders to the house style without putting up much of a fight. Worse, his pacing is for shit, cruelly seeming to wrap things up a good twenty minutes before he actually does and embarking on a whole additional (terrible) ending. Midway through the ensuing battle, another artless mishmash of fire, mud, electricity, and crumbling buildings, this viewer was struck only by how much time, energy, and money it takes to bore an audience silly these days.
Yet, Collet-Serra’s biggest misstep may be the scene where Adam observes Karim watching the climax of “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” on television, violating the firm “MST3K” directive to “never show a good movie in your crappy movie.” But Collet-Sera makes an even more fatal miscalculation: a couple of scenes later, he has Adam ape that sequence and attempts to duplicate Leone’s iconic compositions and montage. If there’s a more concise encapsulation of the vast chasm between the genre craftsmen of the past and the present, I cannot think of it. [D]
“Black Adam” hits theaters on October 21.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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