REVIEW: ‘Black Adam’ is a botched attempt at an anti-hero

‘This isn’t a traditional superhero!’ The movie shouts at us as it takes the route of a generic superhero movie.

Dwayne Johnson stars as the titular character in this film taking place in DC’s cinematic universe. A being with tremendous power, Adam was sealed by magic within a tomb 5,000 years ago after defeating an evil tyrant in the kingdom of Kahndaq.

The film picks up in the present day with Adam being being summoned back in the midst of Kahndaq once again being in turmoil, with outside forces subjugating its people and exploiting the natural resources. Many in Kahndaq see Adam’s return as a good thing, as he has the power to liberate them, but others on Earth see him as a threat, and a special unit of super powered beings are sent to reign him in.

This is the second film this year attempting to introduce a darker comic book hero who would be more in line with an anti-hero than a typical caped-crusader, and failing because the movie ended up being so generic. Now, in all fairness to “Black Adam,” it is better than that film, which if you hadn’t figured it out by now was “Morbius.”

However, that’s a really low bar to get over. The fact is, while “Black Adam” isn’t a complete disaster, it does feel like a disappointment at the end of the day considering what it set out to do.

There are so many moments where the movie is telling the audience that Adam isn’t like other heroes. That he, and by association, the movie itself, is darker and meaner than what a viewer might normally see in the genre.

BlackAdBLog
Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

Yet so often this is being undercut by the protagonist and what’s happening around him. At many points in the film, Adam is shown to be rather humorous or petty in an immature way, and not all that serious.

This is supposed to be a tortured character, yet he often acts like a run-of-the-mill main character in a comic book production. There’s often a lack of pathos and reflection in the character.

That’s not to say films with anti-heroes or characters who lean more toward the darker side can’t have their more humorous moments. Guilermo del Toro’s “Hellboy” movies and James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad” proved that. But there’s a difference between injecting some comedic relief or cynical humor, and having a lighthearted tone for much of the runtime.

That lighthearted tone is reinforced with several supporting characters, too. Prime examples include a kid who helps Adam learn some modern superhero lingo as well as a pair of operatives, Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo).

While the child at least plays a role in the narrative, though, the other two offer not much more than some weak comedy and an unnecessary will they-won’t they sub plot. Honestly, they could have been cut from the movie, with just the characters Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) being sent in to arrest Adam.

HawkManBlog

Those two characters were fairly interesting and had a good dynamic on screen together. Plus, Hodge and Brosnan do solid work in bringing the characters to life, especially the latter, who perfectly captures the wise, mystical figure Dr. Fate.

Having the conflict be just between these three characters would have resulted in a much tighter picture, even if the adventure they all go on would remain rather pedestrian. It’s too bad the movie ends up going in such a generic route, too, because an interesting concept is introduced.

The first half of the movie revolves around a super-powered individual with the potential to liberate their own occupied country from foreign interests being stopped by other outside parties who have done little to help the situation before. Yet this all falls by the wayside as a more generic big bad is brought into play.

Audiences still get the big budget special effects battles in the end, but they just don’t feel all that impactful. It doesn’t help that the story sets something up as sort of a twist, but kind of botches the execution so that the reveal isn’t very effective, not to mention it was kind of spoiled in the trailers.

“Black Adam” has enough going on to entertain, but never enthrall. Its attempt at making a darker hero is haphazard, it’s tonally off and even Dwayne Johnson’s natural charisma he brings to the screen can’t pull this one higher. 2.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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