It’s no secret that Warner Bros. (now Warner Bros. Discovery) continues to struggle with its DC Extended Universe (DCEU) franchise while Disney’s MARVEL (MCU) juggernaut continues to steamroll along. While the DCEU’s ten movies have taken in US$2-1/4 billion at the box office, the MCU’s 29 movies have earned almost five times that. With the exception of the first WONDER WOMAN movie, AQUAMAN, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and SUICIDE SQUAD (the 2016 film), no other DCEU film crossed the US$300 million mark. By comparison, 18 MCU films have that distinction with two of them, AVENGERS: ENDGAME and SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME taking in over US$800 million each. As these films all cost upwards of US$150 million each to make, in financial terms, most of the DCEU films are considered to be box office flops. Warner Bros. has now hung its hopes for the franchise on the immensely popular Dwayne Johnson. As early as 2007, the actor was pitching for a film about the DC antihero character, Black Adam. With the modest success of SHAZAM! in 2019, Johnson finally got his chance for his own film.
The story of BLACK ADAM begins almost 5000 years ago in the ancient city of Kandaq. There, an evil king enslaves his people, making them dig in mines for a precious mineral called Eternium. He hopes to find enough of it to create the Crown of Sabbac, which would give him great power. When a man is murdered after finding one large crystal, his teenaged son leads a revolt that ultimately results in him receiving the power of Shazam. Flash forward to today and Kandaq is a bustling, overcrowded city not unlike… I’ll say Gaza City. For the past 27 years, the city has been controlled by the Intergang, a group of foreigners who oppress the residents and monitor their every movement using an array of ultra-high tech equipment. Presumably, they’re trying to find the crown but haven’t been unable to do so until, one day, archeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi, TV’s SEX/LIFE and FAIRLY LEGAL) finds the relic along with the burial place of the city’s legendary liberator, Teth-Adam. When she utters the word “Shazam!”, the tomb bursts open and Teth-Adam (Johnson) emerges alive. He quickly makes short shrift of the bad guys but it’s only the beginning. A.R.G.U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, THE SUICIDE SQUAD; MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM) has concerns about Teth-Adam’s unchecked power so she sends four members of Justice Society of America – Carter Hall/Hawkman (Aldis Hodge, ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI; HIDDEN FIGURES), Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan, CINDERELLA; EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA), Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell, TV’s IN TREATMENT) and Al Rothstein/Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo, the TO ALL THE BOYS films) – to capture Teth-Adam and bring him in. That plan doesn’t go so well though, as someone else wants to get his hands on the crown, which is now in the possession of Adrianna’s teenage son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui).
Kandaq isn’t alone in needing a champion. The DCEU desperately needs one too, but this film isn’t going to get them one. Johnson’s star power carries BLACK ADAM a long way but even he can’t save what is a dull story that is filled with characters that are bland at best. I think he knew he was dealing with a dog of a script as a few times during the film he injects his trademark stink eyes and deadpan quips. As humorous as they are, they’re incongruous with his character.
But that’s only the start of the film’s problems. Leaving aside the big questions about who the Justice Society of America is and if these four are really the best they’ve got, why are they so sure that Teth-Adam can’t turn over a new leaf? It’s been 5000 years, after all. Maybe he can be convinced there’s a better way to mete out justice. But no, they are sure that once a powerful killer, always a powerful killer, and the movie spends far too much time on that tenet. Another of the film’s big problems is the actor who plays the ultimate bad guy. (I’m not going to reveal his name because that would be a spoiler.) He’s been in a few films over the years but he’s not a recognizable face. To compare, let’s look at who plays the bad guys in some of the MCU films – Michael B. Jordan (Eric Killmonger), Tim Hiddleston (Loki), Josh Brolin (Thanos), Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin), Kurt Russell (Ego), Christian Bale (Gorr, the God Butcher), Cate Blanchett (Hela),… This actor, though capable, isn’t in the same league (no pun intended) and that makes it difficult for the audience to buy into his character’s story. Just as disappointing is the story’s political undertone. I’m well aware of who the Intergang is supposed to be modeled after. I didn’t like it and I thought it was unnecessary but if you’re going to go there, then commit to it. Instead, director Jaume Collet-Serra (JUNGLE CRUISE) teases the adversarial relationship between the Intergang and the people of Kandaq in the beginning of the film and then abandons the thread as soon as the JSA shows up. Even so, I doubt Collet-Serra will be invited out for a kosher meal anytime soon.
Is BLACK ADAM going to be a box office success? Probably not but that doesn’t seem to be a problem with the folks at Warner Bros. There’s already talk about the obvious match up between Black Adam and Shazam! BLACK ADAM’s one post-credit scene also teases another DC character arriving to make sure Black Adam doesn’t use his superpowers for nefarious purposes.
BLACK ADAM opens in cinemas around the world starting today (October 20). As far as DCEU films go, it’s better than many of them but that’s not saying much. Unless you’re a diehard DCEU or Dwayne Johnson fan, you can safely wait for it to land on HBO Max, which will probably happen sometime in December or January. No date has been confirmed at this time.
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