One Liner Review:
a sort of throw back superhero movie to when they were more simple, this one is very much a B movie, with CG action, humor, and a pretty basic plot.
The biggest problem with Black Adam is the forgettable and uninteresting villain. There used to be a theory in mystery movies that if you have a bunch of big name actors, one of them will turn out to be the surprise villain. Not so any more. Just look at movies like See Them Run, or this one. Here in Black Adam, they do have some famous actors on hand (Pierce Brosnan, Aldous Hodge,) but the villain is an actor who we don’t really know (he played Jafar in the live action Aladdin, but most likely you would need to look that up to find it out.) Other than the villain problem, though, this movie is okay. The action is CGI heavy, but it still kind of works. The humor is there, and the story might not be anything special, but it’s fine. It gets the job done. This is very much a B movie superhero film, which is kind of what you would expect from the Rock, when you think about it. This is the guy whose biggest movies were the Fast and the Furious films. Those movies live and die by their B movie status, never trying to be anything more. Black Adam is like the superhero version of those films and feels right at home with some of the better movies in that series.
Black Adam is a strange superhero movie. It’s strange because it exists at a time when superhero movies keep trying to change it up and find something new and different to give us, (which is not always a good thing,) and yet Black Adam is more of a throwback to the way these movies used to be. It’s easy to say this movie is more of the same, but when everything around it is something strange and unusual (Eternals, Doctor Strange 2, both of which did not work at all,) then something different is actually the thing that feels somewhat original, or st least kind of unique.
Truth be told, on a first viewing this movie is hard to appreciate. And that’s in large part due to expectations. If you expect the action to be good, it’s not. If you expect the story to be good, it’s not. The things that do work about the movie are the fun characters and the humor. And the humor is subtle. It’s almost on the level of black comedy humor, which means it’s not always about the joke itself, but the meaning behind it, or the rhythm with which it happens.
The other thing kind of interesting about this movie is the level of violence. This one doesn’t go all out for a hard R the way, say, the new Mortal Kombat movie does, but at times it gets kind of close. Now let’s be clear, the movie is not rated R. And yet they get away with a lot. The first time Black Adam (called Teth Adam here for some reason that either isn’t explained or isn’t explained enough,) grabs someone, he holds the man up by the beck and electrocuted him until the msn turns into a skeleton and his skull falls off and rolls to the ground. At another point (later in the same scene,) Black Adam hits someone with a guys severed foot. And then much later in the movie Black Adam actually rips someone in half as if it’s a sheet of paper. So yeah, we get pretty close to Mortal Kombat fatality territory without actually seeing any blood.
If those last few descriptions are starting to make the action sound like it might be kind of cool, be forewarned… it’s not. It’s all CGI. This movie feels like it has more CGI in it than Avengers Endgame. After all, the hero is basically a god and has blue lightning bolts that surround and shoot out of his body, making his power a combination of Thor and Jamie Fox’s Electro. Now, on an artistic level, that’s kind of cool. At times. But on a practical level, none of it feels real. The stunts don’t feel like they’re really being done (in fact, it’s hard to say if there even are stunts, or if everything is just done in computers.) Let’s put it this way, this movie is very far off from say, the John Wick movies and actual choreography. And that’s just to give a modern example.
So the action is lousy. The story here is just okay. Basically some archaeologist treasure hunters are searching for a mysterious magic crown of a former king (a Macguffin if ever there was one.) the group consists of a woman, named Adriana, her heavy sidekick brother, Karim, (here for humor that definitely does not work,) two other guys on their team who both seem kind of mysterious, and her son. And they live in a fictional city called Kandaq, that has been overtaken by foreign soldiers called Intergang. These guys use hoverboard motorcycles that glide through the air on blue lasers, making their tech a combo of what the Storm Troopers used in Return of the Jedi and what the Chitari used in the Avengers.
The treasure hunters find the crown, but are attacked by Intergang Soldiers. That’s when Adriana says the magic words including “Shazam,” at the end, (Black Adam, in the comics, has been one of the arch enemies of the hero Shazam, meaning the treatment of him in this movie is making him more of an anti-hero like what they did with Tom Hardy’s Venom.) At this point Black Adam appears, wearing a black cloak and hood, and fights off the attackers. He basically does this by zooming around the cave, Quicksilver-style, and taking out his enemies before they can even move.
When we get out of the cave, we get some of that bad humor of the brother (singing at the top of his lungs to music on his radio, the song “Baby, Come Back,” which was used by the first Transformers movie. That’s worth noting only because of how much Black Adam takes things from other movies, to the point where they can’t even find their own music. Outside the cave, we get The Rolling Stones song “Paint It Black,” which might be the most overused song in movies around (it has been decades since it actually felt original when it was used in the Kevin Bacon movie Stir of Echoes.) And here outside the cave, we get Black Adam throwing helicopters around like they are basketballs, with explosions happening behind him.
Luckily, things pick up. Both the story snd the humor get better. The story involves the Justice Society coming in. This is a group of heroes called in by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, in a nice Easter Egg – connectivity moment,) who wants Black Adam controlled and imprisoned. They are lead by Hawkman (Aldous Hodge, who was so great in One Night in Miami.) Other members of the team include Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan,) Adam Smasher, and Cyclone. It seems like for Atom Smasher and Cyclone, this is their first mission with the team, and it would have been nice to have more time with that idea.. with seeing how they were recruited and brought in. Instead, those two our given minimal time (Cyclone in particular, is completely wasted and given nothing to do,) and the bulk of this teams scenes focus on Hawkman and Doctor Fate.
And that brings us to the humor. There’s a whole lot here between Black Adam and Hawkman, who basically hate each other. There’s a lot about Black Adam killing people. He doesn’t understand the value of human life, or just doesn’t care. And if that brings to mind the Terminator, it’s definitely intentional. The humor level and best jokes in this movie have Terminator vibes all over them. Black Adam is more or less learning to be human, or at least to fit in. He takes advice on this from Adriana’s son, Amon, who teaches him a cool catch phrase. And there are jokes about the timing of when to deliver it. There’s also a joke about choosing your words carefully, which feels very similar. And all of this works. Everything about human life and Black Adam not hesitating to kill people, works.
What doesn’t work is the villain, and all of the slow motion. The slow motion is very Zack Snyder-esque, at a time when Snyder’s way of doing action movies is clearly a thing of the past. There’s a reason why DC has been trying to separate itself from Snyder for some time now, and much as I loved his longer cut of Justice League, one can’t forget that he also made Batman Vs Superman. Here, the slow motion doesn’t work. Especially when it’s just freezing the image and then having blue sparks come out of Black Adam and float all around us. The other thing that doesn’t work is the villain. He basically comes out of nowhere for the end. He suddenly emerges as an entity that can actually pose a challenge for Black Adam. It is very similar to the end of Wonder Woman, with Ares just showing up. Only there, at least, it was treated as a sort of mystery, with everyone trying to guess who Ares was up until that point. Here, the villain gains superpowers because of an incredibly convoluted idea involving wanting to die so that he can be transformed. It is all happens at the very end of the movie. What we really needed was a villain who was there the whole time. That’s what the best superhero movies have. A villain who is just as interesting as the hero, if not more. And there was a perfect opportunity here to give us a villain who was the leader of Intergang. Only this movie never went that direction. Overall, The movie has some things that work, like the humor (the scene where Black Adam copies a moment from the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and blasts people with his fingers, as if he is in a gunfight, is a lot of fun.) But there’s not enough action that feels interesting. There’s entertainment to be had with the jokes, and theme about killing people, and the fish-out-of-water Terminator 2-like trying to fit in elements, but this is still kind of a dopey B movie, and not a whole lot more.