Friday, 3 February 2023

Black Adam (2022)

Dwayne Johnson spent a lot of time in the run up to the release of Black Adam by telling people that "the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe is about to change". I'm not sure anyone really believed him, but I was certainly willing to give him a chance to strut his stuff in a full-on superhero movie. It's probably going to be the only Black Adam movie we get, at least for now, and one or two quick-witted people online have already made an observation about the irony of Johnson being "dethroned" due to, well, a change in the hierarchy of power at DC.

It’s really easy to sun up this film. Adam is woken up by some people, he is pretty angry, and he starts to cause a lot of damage to property and people in the country of Kahndaq. A few talented individuals, known as the Justice Society, are sent to meet with Adam. If he cannot be reasoned with then he must be stopped. Which is strange, considering that Kahndaq hasn’t been of interest to the likes of the Justice Society while the people have been suffering under forces of oppression. Some people believe that Adam will be the savior of Kahndaq, but many more believe him to be a powerful threat to the entire world. There’s a much bigger threat on the way though. As always.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, delivering a film that is in line with most of the standard DC movies of the past few years (big in scale, plenty of polish, but just a little bit of extra grit and seriousness to remind you that DC desperately wants to be more than just escapist fun), Black Adam is, for the most part, surprisingly dull. Or maybe it isn’t that surprising. After all, the character is so similar to Superman that a lot of the big superhero moments feel overly familiar, and the plotting is as predictable as expected. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the last team-up between Collet-Serra and Johnson (the fun Jungle Cruise), but this feels like a step down. The balance is wrong, especially when the moments of actual heroism are the least enjoyable moments of the film.

Writers Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohran Noshirvani go through the motions for over half of the runtime, but at least it feels like Haines and Noshirvani are happy to be given such a big blockbuster in which they can make some interesting points about American intervention around the world and the ways in which different countries can help or hinder one another. This strand is the most interesting part of Black Adam, and you know it has to be pushed aside for a grand finale that will be overflowing with the usual display of visual FX. I admit that I enjoyed the look of the main villain here, but it was, as with most of the movie, tiresomely familiar.

Johnson is very good in the lead role here, as you expect him to be, and he gets a chance to show some actual acting, as opposed to just dominating the screen with his presence and bulk. It’s not all through the film, but it’s there, and credit where credit is due. Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge are two senior members of the Justice Society, both doing their best to remain confident and cool in ridiculous costumes, and Noah Centineo and Quintessa Swindell are enjoyable enough as younger superheroes. Sarah Shahi is a good non-superpowered character, Marwan Kenzari does fine in depicting a character journey that keeps him on a rigidly set path, and young Bodhi Sabongui is the boy at the heart of the tale (the Edward Furlong to Johnson’s caped “terminator”) and my opinion of his performance is best summed up by me saying that Edward Furlong was arguably the weak point of that movie, but Sabongui doesn’t even manage to get to that level.

There are a lot of fun little Easter eggs dotted throughout this, eagle-eyed DC fans will find plenty to amuse them, and the technical side of things, from the special effects to the score, the production design to the audio work, is all as good as it should be. It’s easy to see why this didn’t set the world alight though. And it is now further weakened by a post-credit scene that is Joe rendered completely pointless. 


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