“The hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change.” Dwayne Johnson has pushed that message to the point of it becoming a meme but he is right, somewhat. The titular Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson) makes an impressionable debut as an all-powerful anti-hero, but the film itself is a weak entry in the DC Cinematic Universe.
An extended prologue introduces the ancient city of Kahndaq and an onslaught of nouns and macguffins to keep track of: demons, crowns, and a prized resource with the most ridiculous name since Avatar's Unobtanium. The important takeaway is that Teth Adam is a slave who became a champion of the people in the city 5,000 years ago and was gifted with superhuman powers by a council of wizards — but became imprisoned after a battle with the oppressive leader at the time.
In modern day Kahndaq, freedom fighter Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), her son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) and brother Karim (Mohammed Amer), and fellow ally Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari) awaken Black Adam whilst on a dangerous mission to retrieve the powerful Crown of Sabbac before the militant oppressors Intergang does. With Black Adam causing destruction and chaos, the Justice Society are called into action to tame the newly-awakened superhero.
If it sounds like a lot, that's because it is. Even at two hours long, the amount of characters, macguffins and plot makes Black Adam feel overstuffed — but it causes some other problems too. The dialogue, for one, is atrociously bad. As well as being filled with terribly cliched one-liners, almost every single line is exposition and takes away any sense of character from the entire cast.
That lack of character is also felt when they're all fighting for screen time. Whilst Black Adam unsurprisingly gets a full character arc, Adrianna and her family don't have one at all. Within the Justice Society, Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) have some good chemistry together as old friends but the team's new recruits don't offer much. Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) is sorely underserved by the script and doesn't get a chance to do anything, whilst Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) barely provides light comedy relief.
Those only wanting to see Black Adam on the big screen proving just how formidable he is will be pleased, however. His first on-screen moments serve as a great introduction as he dispatches an army of henchmen in brutal fashion. Johnson's trademark Hollywood smile is nowhere to be seen as he fully embodies the brooding anti-hero out for vengeance. There are some moments and lines of dialogue that seem out of character, but Black Adam himself makes a strong debut.
Black Adam is chock full of action sequences which won't thrill audiences but are exciting enough to keep things engaging. When the fights subside for a brief moment, the interesting narrative themes come to the surface: westerners impeding on middle eastern countries, mythologising champions, violent justice vs. peace through broken systems. Unfortunately they end up being surface level or lead to predictable outcomes.
DC fans have been hungry for a big live-action take on the iconic character for some time now, and whilst Johnson delivers in the titular role, the film itself does not. With the origin story out of the way, now we can hopefully see Black Adam shine in future outings when he clashes with the rest of the DCEU roster of heroes and villains.
Black Adam releases in cinemas from October 21st.