October 17, 2022

CINEMA | Dwayne Johnson Smashes the Charmless 'Black Adam'

"Fate does not make mistakes."
Dwayne Johnson | Black Adam
New Line Cinema / DC Films
After many years of development, superstar Dwayne Johnson (also a producer) finally stars as the eponymous DC Comics (originally Fawcett Comics) demigod and Shazam! nemesis in Black Adam. Journeyman Spanish-American director Jaume Collet-Serra jam-packs the overstuffed anti-hero spectacle with so much reckless rampage and violent destruction before trying to justify the act of murder in opposition to heroism.

Essentially a more serious retelling of Shazam!, the film takes place in the occupied fictional North African nation of Kahndaq (standing in for what was originally Egypt in the comics) where Johnson's Teth-Adam, an ancestral mythical figure, is awakened after five thousand years of imprisonment by the same wizards who empowered both him and Billy Batson. He sets off a torrent of mass collateral damage on the streets before his people beg him to free their Middle Eastern country from "Intergang" rule just as others view him as a threat.

Co-stars Aldis Hodge (Hawkman), Noah Centineo (Atom Smasher), Quintessa Swindell (Cyclone), and Pierce Brosnan (Doctor Fate) show up as the unexplained members of the legendary and previously unseen superteam team, the Justice Society of America ("JSA"), and must contain Adam before reluctantly uniting to defeat a common supervillain enemy conjured from the undead depths of what appears to be Hell. If that all sounds like an over-packed script by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani for what should be a relatively straightforward superhero movie, it's because it definitely is.

Black Adam's relentless first half does offer enough dizzying thrills and stylish action to sidestep the belaboured comic book storytelling but things climax into a disengaged mess of a finale that undoes what charm there is. Johnson's enthusiasm for the source material feels misguided since he eschews every ounce of his natural charisma as such a dynamic performer. Instead, he uncharacteristically sinks in an ultra-seriously charmless role advocating an uneasy moral core about exacting revenge.


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