Black Adam features a character with almost unlimited power. This only makes the script of the film sloppy. Dwayne Johnson has a limited range of expression in his role as the ancient mystical being that DC’s superhero epic features. This film isn’t as cool as it looks but highlights the inherent challenges of creating stories around antiheroes.
The original villain of the “Shazam”, Captain Marvel comics, is now the antihero Teth-Adam. He receives his own origin story. It involves him gaining extraordinary powers in Kahndaq’s mythical kingdom. This place has been dormant for approximately 5,000 years before he awakens. Adrianna Shahi (a researcher) is the one who liberates him. She seeks a mythical crown that could provide relief for a nation that has been under the control of Intergang, a criminal organization.
Adrianna has a teenage son, Bodhi Sabongui, who is surprisingly well-versed in superhero lore. He is a rather dull comic relief and cheerfully tries to persuade Adam to use catchphrases much like John Connor did with the Terminator over 30 years ago. It’s every bit as tedious as it sounds.
Although it was possible to enjoy Adam’s inexperience with modern conveniences, Johnson’s film mostly confines Johnson to terse sound bites. Johnson’s screen superpower is not his impressive physique. Johnson’s natural charm is better used in vehicles such as the “Jumanji” revival.
The movie’s total acceptance of comic-book-y conventions, and virtually nonstop action for most of its two-hour run time, almost saves it but fails to do so. Adam’s ruthlessness, repeated violations of the “Heroes Don’t Kill People” code and his savagery add to the violence, even though they are, well, terrible.
The downside to this unrelenting pace? There’s little time for explanation or plot. Amanda Waller, played by Viola Davis in “The Suicide Squad”, reprises her role as Teth-Adam. She immediately dispatches members of the Justice Society, the original DC super-team, to fight him.
Hawkman (Aldis Holge) leads the group. He is accompanied by Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), and newbies Atom Smasher and Cyclone, who are frankly more demographically suited for the Teen Titans.
It’s a mismatch power-wise. However, Jaume Collet–Serra, who worked with Johnson to better effect “Jungle Cruise”) made those scenes big and move quickly. DC, like the “Justice League” pre-Snyder cut version, attempts to mimic Marvel’s cinematic might by skipping a few steps. It just throws the Justice Society out there with no introduction or fanfare – perhaps a less appealing prospect than a Johnson-starring film, but it contributes to the awkwardness.
It’s impossible to ignore the lackluster dialogue or the feeling that “Black Adam” underestimates the character’s appeal. Even the closing credits sequence hinting at a better follow-up is not enough to fuel the appetite for another.
The times are what they are and Johnson has to add “Black Adam” to his action list. This drab addition to the universe, despite DC’s positive experience with “Shazam”, only underscores how difficult it is to catch lightning even once.