Black Adam Movie Review: The hierarchy remains the same

For the past year, we've been warned that the hierarchy of the DC universe was about to change with the arrival of Black Adam. Now that the movie is here, the seismic shift we were promised feels incredibly oversold.

It's no fault of Dwayne Johnson, whose hulking presence will be the reason you're buying a ticket in the first place. Johnson slips easily into the role of Teth-Adam/Black Adam, once-protector of the ancient city of Kahndaq. Disappearing after mysterious circumstances, he awakes thousands of years later in modern-day Kahndaq, now the home base of terrorist organization Intergang. The question on everyone's mind: has he returned as a savior...or as a conqueror?

Johnson has been preparing for the role this past decade and a half and it shows. His charisma guarantees your attention. He smolders, glowers, and mostly postures superheroically at every juncture, and half the movie has him hovering a few feet off the ground, as if it's unworthy of his contact. His threat level is off the charts as he eviscerates and electrocutes everyone in his path in violent fight scenes reminiscent of Zack Snyder (in fact, some of Snyder's signature style is consistently aped throughout by director Jaume Collet-Serra).

But all his charisma can't save a movie more concerned with showcasing all the budget they have on action-packed set pieces than telling a coherent story. Black Adam often feels embarrassed that it has to have a plot in between flashy battles between Johnson and whoever it was that needed punching at the moment, whether it's Intergang, the Justice Society, or the Big Bad who arrives only because the plot dictates that they do so. Things happen in the movie not in service of the plot but because Black Adam needs to murder someone in the next scene, and that may satisfy DCEU die-hards, but more discerning moviegoers might hold on to their necks in fear of whiplash.

Things get even muddled by the appearance of the Justice Society, comprised of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), tasked with taking down Black Adam and his perceived threat to world order. A lot of energy is spent making us care about these colorful characters, and while it mostly succeeds on the back of these actors' performances, their presence makes the movie feel like two films in one, and one wonders just how much Black Adam can breathe without these DC heavyweights sharing the spotlight.

What's frustrating is that there are hints of a good movie in here. Themes of imperialism and foreign interventionism are touched upon as the obviously American Justice Society takes it upon themselves to guarantee the safety of Kahndaq, who wonder where the hell these people were when their country went to shit (a good question, to be sure). Johnson also touches upon themes of family and loss and there are times when you can see he tries his damnedest to elevate the script, but as much as he tries, Black Adam stumbles into these themes ill-equipped to handle them.

But for all its faults, Black Adam is still a more competent outing for DC's cinematic universe than most, even if it barely nudges the needle. At this point, a win is a win.

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