‘Black Adam’ review: Dwayne Johnson stars as the anti-hero in a lackluster addition to the DC Universe




CNN

“Black Adam” features a protagonist with nearly limitless power, which only makes its puny storyline more visible. Dwayne Johnson grapples with a very limited range of expression as the ancient mystic featured in DC’s latest superhero epic, a film that isn’t quite as cool as its poster, while underscoring the inherent challenge to the construction of stories around anti-heroes.

Originally a villain from the “Shazam” (aka Captain Marvel) comic books, the anti-hero formerly known as Teth-Adam is given his own origin story, one that involves gaining extraordinary powers in the mythical realm of Kahndaq, then dormant for approximately 5,000 years until he awakens. Her release comes from a seeker hoping to free her people, Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), in search of a mythical crown that also contains untold power and, in theory, could offer relief to a nation under the thumb of a criminal enterprise known as Intergang.

Adrianna also has a teenage son (Bodhi Sabongui) who is very familiar with superhero lore. As a rather lukewarm comic relief, he happily continues to try to trick Adam into uttering catchphrases much like young John Connor trained the Terminator over 30 years ago, which is just as annoying as that. be able to show up.

Indeed, while it would have been possible to have some fun with Adam’s unfamiliarity with modern conveniences, the film largely confines him to terse tough-guy soundbites, neutralizing the screen superpower of Johnson beyond his imposing physique – namely, his natural, enhanced charm. use in vehicles like the “Jumanji” revival.

What nearly saves the film, but ultimately can’t, is its utter adherence to comic book conventions and nonstop virtual action for much of its two-hour run. There’s also a tougher side to the violence thanks to Adam’s cruelty and repeated violation of the “Heroes don’t kill people” code, even though they’re, well, evil.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 03: Dwayne Johnson holds a fan's baby during the black carpet for the 'Black Adam Fan Event' at Museo Anahuacalli on October 03, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

“The Rock” thought a fan handed him a doll. He was a baby. See the moment

00:49

– Source: CNN

Of course, the trade-off with the relentless pacing is that there’s little time for intrigue or explanation. Once Teth-Adam appears, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, reprising her role from “The Suicide Squad” films) immediately dispatches members of the Justice Society – the original DC super-team that preceded the Justice League in the comics – to fight it.

The reunited group consists of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), who leads them, accompanied by the magical Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and wide-eyed newbies Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), with the latter pair feeling frankly more demographically suited to the Teen Titans.

While it’s definitely a mismatch in terms of powers, as realized by Jaume Collet-Serra (who worked with Johnson to achieve better effect on “Jungle Cruise”), these scenes look big and moving. rapidly. But like the pre-“Snyder cut” version of “Justice League,” in its rush to replicate Marvel’s cinematic might, DC is essentially trying to get away with skipping a few steps, simply throwing the Justice Society in without fanfare or introduction. dedicated. — a less promotable prospect than a movie starring Johnson, perhaps, but a contributing factor to the awkwardness of this exercise.

There’s simply no getting around the awkwardness of the dialogue, or the “Black Adam” feel overstates the appeal of the character. Even a sequence during the closing credits hinting at a more dynamic follow-up doesn’t do as much as it should to fuel the appetite for an encore.

Times being what they are, playing a true superhero represents an inevitable addition to Johnson’s acting resume, and “Black Adam” (putting aside “DC’s League of Super-Pets”) ticks that box. Still, after DC’s happy experience with the lighter-hearted “Shazam,” this lackluster addition to its universe only underscores how hard it is to catch lightning once, let alone twice.

“Black Adam” hits US theaters October 21 and is rated PG-13. DC and Warner Bros., which distributes the film, are units of Warner Bros. Discovery, just like CNN.