The DCEU has struggled to make the same sort of impact as the MCU has managed. They have a deep bench of characters to draw on, but the folks behind the scenes have not managed to find a tone, story-line or believable connections between the characters. The Justice League movie, turned into an awkward amalgam of stories and the resurrected Snyder Cut, while having some promise , still felt bloated and not much has been done with it since. “The Flash” movie has been hobbled with the problems surrounding the star, and the only emotionally satisfying film that they produced was the surprisingly lighthearted “Shazam!“. “Black Adam” is a project that Dwayne Johnson was committed to and the decision was made to separate it from it’s roots in the “Shazam!” sequel and make it it’s own thing.
This is a film that feels very much in the style of the “Aquaman” movie. It is a CGI heavy, action film filled with creative imagery but so much background exposition that it feels more convoluted than it really is. Teth Adam is the slave infused with the powers of the gods, who was almost immediately put into a prison for 5000 years. It takes us a while to discover the dark back story that fuels his rage and makes him a danger to the rest of the world when he is released, using the same command that brings forth “Shazam!”. The imaginary history of the Kingdom of Kahndaq forms the background of an origin story which takes up a chunk of the first part of the film. No one bothers to create a backstory for the other superheroes in the film. I’m not familiar with the Justice Society of America, or the two leaders of that group that appear in this film Dr. Fate and Hawkman. I got their character pretty quickly without those introductions and then we get two additional younger characters to fill out the team that is supposed to confront this character that apparently Amanda Waller knows about before he was even revived. She seems to be in charge of the Justice Society, I guess it is the counterpart to the Suicide Squad.
I enjoyed the superheroes relationship, in large part because Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge sell it pretty well. There are occasional humorous bits with the character Atom Smasher, who feels like an Ant-Man substitute. The character of Cyclone is not as interesting as her powers are, and she is underused in the film which is too bad because there is potential there that is just wasted. The non-empowered humans are only important occasionally, with Anon, the skateboarding juvenile protagonist being both charming and annoying. For every moment that we want to root for him, he has a sense of self awareness that just feels cartoonish, which doesn’t quite work here. Anon’s Mother and Uncle are instigators, but after saving the Uncle, his character disappears from the film for most of the rest of the story.
Dwayne Johnson does have to carry the movie however and he succeeds well. This may be the most stoic I’ve seen him in a film. I don’t remember his trademark arched eyebrow showing up at all, and he is stingy with his smile, using it mostly in sarcastic moments rather than in any warmth. Clearly his physique and face are the acting tools he is using in this film, and sometimes he gets a little lost in all the CGI. The goal of keeping him as an anti-hero is largely met, although the finish of the film with a threat and a challenge from Waller feels like piling on. Most of that though pays off in the mid credit sequence that is trying to tie the films together and set up a future confrontation.
Black Adm is perfectly acceptable but it does seem to be more standard than groundbreaking. I’m not sure that it is the gamechanger that Johnson and the folks in charge of the DCEU want it to be. Frankly, I’m more excited by the “Shazam!” sequel which got pushed back then I am at the prospect of a second film in this series. It will happen I am sure because even though comic book fatigue may be a real thing, they seem to be the only kinds of films with the reliability that theaters need.