With the current state of the DCEU being unfocused and filled with random ideas thrown at a wall to see what sticks, there’s always hope that a cinematic universe dedicated to the iconic characters and stories from DC Comics would become something great. The latest attempt to keep this shared movie universe on the right track is Black Adam. Is Black Adam the movie to accomplish this feat? It’s certainly worth analyzing to find out.
(Spoilers for Black Adam are ahead)
Black Adam is chock full of explosive action sequences that are absolutely riveting to see. Watching these scenes on the big screen is like being on a fast-paced, wildly entertaining amusement park ride. The action makes good use of Black Adam’s superpowers, like his invulnerability, the ability to shoot lightning, flight, and speed, as he demolishes vehicles and decimates foes. Because he’s willing to be more violent than other big-screen comic characters, the fights do feel more unique than what’s seen in other comic book adaptations.
The visuals are just as brilliant as the action. There’s a lot of CGI used throughout the movie, but it looks good and it’s used well. It makes the fantastical elements look real and blended with the more realistic environments while adding a rather cool-looking aesthetic to the film.
The supporting characters in Black Adam are all welcome inclusions and genuinely fun to watch throughout the movie. The Justice Society of America particularly stands out. Each of its members, especially Hawkman and Doctor Fate, feel like perfect adaptations of the comic book source material, receive satisfying character development, and feel like fully fleshed-out characters. Adrianna feels almost as much of a protagonist as Black Adam himself. Karim serves as fantastic comic relief. Amon is probably one of the most entertaining characters, as he feels like one of the Goonies. He’s wise-cracking, courageous even when facing off against an evil government regime, well-performed, feels like a real person as well as an homage to kid characters from 80s and 90s movies. These characters each offer a lot to like.
There’s some surprising and important commentary made throughout the film as well. The Justice Society of America protects the world and gets their assignments from the U.S. government. They say they always want to do the right thing and hope to push their values onto others. They show up to help save the day from Black Adam, but weren’t present as the Intergang rose to power. This serves as fantastic commentary as to how the United States sees and treats the world. They assume they’re the world police but still allow horrible things to happen around the globe and wish to force their beliefs on other countries. Black Adam accomplishes this outstanding commentary in what is otherwise another superhero flick while using great characters for it. It’s quite brilliant.
This may be a darker and more serious film than other modern superhero blockbusters, but it does offer its fair share of great humor. There’s clever situational humor, some moments of quick-paced slapstick, and clever one-liners. The humorous moments offer a lot of fun without taking too much away from the more dramatic elements.
Black Adam thankfully feels like a standalone story, but it still manages to expand the DCEU quite nicely and in interesting ways. We see that other heroes exist in this world even if we haven’t been introduced to them yet, so anyone from the source material can be out there. We learn a bit of history regarding superpowers in this universe, especially those relating to Shazam.. We even get an update on Amanda Waller’s standing within the government, along with a couple of other characters and an additional Task Force X base. It’s pretty impressive to see a movie feel like it’s own contained story while also offering extra worldbuilding for the overall movie universe.
Moviegoers have seen Dwayne Johnson show off how incredibly charismatic he can be in countless other roles, but all of that charisma is completely gone from this role. He seems bored and completely disinterested in the material throughout almost all of the movie. On top of that the fact that his character has an American accent doesn’t make sense whatsoever. It’s truly bizarre to see Hawkman and Doctor Fate have fantastic performances while Black Adam has no energy. It’s like every other character steals the spotlight from the titular character because of how locking Johnson’s performance is.
The editing gets pretty sloppy throughout. For instance, there’s a scene where it appears that a character was left behind somewhere only for him to suddenly be in a future shot holding a bucket of fried chicken, as if the actor was only available for certain shots and they put in the most random reasoning for his few minutes of absence. There are edits like this throughout the movie that make the storytelling feel incredibly awkward.
Speaking of awkward storytelling, an awful lot of the dialogue is dedicated to inorganic exposition, most of which is repeated multiple times throughout the movie. There’s a certain amount of expositional dialogue that’s necessary for a two-hour film, but it’s ridiculously overused here. Normal people don’t talk like this.
In the comics, Black Adam was originally a villain who took on Captain Marvel (Shazam). In more recent years, he’s been reworked to be seen more as an antihero at times. The movie, though, doesn’t seem to know which version it wants to focus on. He regularly saves people and ensures that no innocents are harmed in the process, but he obsessively declares he’s not a hero an awful lot. He’s willing to kill without a second thought, and the JSA fights against him because of it, but he only kills an evil government organization and a literal demon. They made him feel more like a full-blown hero at times and just kept telling us he isn’t one. It’s like they were too afraid to commit to a supervillain movie. It all just further plays into the already awkward storytelling.
Toward the end of the film, the true villain raises a cool but surprisingly small army of undead soldiers. They may appear to be a scary additional threat for the characters to worry about, but powerless, everyday citizens are able to defeat them with single punches. This makes the undead feel incredibly lame. Yes, this scene was supposed to show the citizens banding together, but wouldn’t it have made more sense if they banded together against their corrupt government?
As great as the JSA are in this movie and as funny as Adam Smasher is, there’s absolutely no reason Adam Smasher should have been chosen for this particular mission. The ability to grow to humungous proportions is a useful power, but not against Black Adam. Hawkman clearly knows what powers Black Adam has they need to worry about, so there’s no way he’d want Adam Smasher for this one. Doctor Fate’s magic makes sense for countering Black Adam’s and Cyclone’s wind manipulation could work as a counter for his flight, but Black Adam would decimate Adam Smasher in a heartbeat. This is confirmed by having the character be barely helpful in the movie. If they made a comment about him focusing on preventing casualties, it would be much more believable, but nothing of the sort is ever said. There are plenty of JSA members from the source material the filmmakers could have gone with that would have made more sense, like Firestorm, Stargirl, or Vibe. They aren’t being used elsewhere in the DCEU, so why not use characters that would actually be good choices against Black Adam?
There’s an admittedly funny recurring gag used throughout the movie in which Black Adam nonchalantly crashes through walls instead of using doors. It’s actually a hilarious way to showcase his strength and invulnerability. That being said, doors existed during his time. He spent his whole life using doors before being imprisoned. It doesn’t make much sense that he doesn’t know how to use one.
Early in the story, we see that Black Adam can be hurt by a material known as Eternium despite being insanely powerful. This could have been fantastic foreshadowing, especially since we see that Intergang has weapons that use Eternium. However, they never once attempt to attack him with Eternium for the remainder of the movie. It turns out there’s no reason to show the audience what can hurt Black Adam.
Black Adam is a mess at times. It’s evident that the film went through far too many edits during the post production phase. The filmmakers clearly were unsure of which direction to take the story in. It certainly doesn’t help that the protagonist always appears as though they aren’t interested in anything going on around them. There are even times when the movie makes the audience wish they were watching a standalone Justice Society of America film or 2019’s Shazam.
With all that being said, it’s still a very fun watch with fantastic visuals and action sequences. The humor can be an absolute joy, and the commentary is thought-provoking and important. The fact that it can be enjoyed as a standalone superhero movie, which feels rarer and rarer as time goes on, is an added bonus. The storytelling may be muddy, but the entertainment isn’t.