The hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change. Fifteen years after discussions began of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson playing Teth Adam in a DC superhero movie, the film he has worked towards for years arrives in theaters. Black Adam is the newest film set in the DC Extended Universe, following an ancient superpowered antihero arriving in modern times who faces off with the Justice Society of America. This movie has been years in the making, and The Rock’s passion for the character has been evident through it all. Unfortunately, this is a disappointingly mediocre superhero outing that does not stick the landing as well as it should.
When a movie opens with expository narration, it’s not typically a good sign. The first half hour of the movie is rough, beating you over the head with exposition, catching you up on all the mythology and backstory you need to follow the rest of the film. The world they build is unique, exploring unchartered territory for the DC Extended Universe while tying into the story set up in Shazam! The way the film introduces you to Black Adam and the members of the JSA is, unfortunately, clunky and requires a lot more on the page.
But once all the tedious character setups are out of the way, it’s time for some action. The action kicks in in full gear, blowing you out of the water and never quite letting up. It’s one of the more action-packed DC outings, with explosions, fights, and an invincible superhero. Black Adam has all the powers of Shazam, but instead of the lighthearted childlike innocence of the character, he is a slave with powers born out of rage. A person who lived five thousand years ago is brought into modern times and wreaks havoc in the name of justice.
When the action starts, it’s all entertaining. There is always fun to be had with big-budget superhero action. When you combine an iconic muscular movie star with a $200 million budget, you get the blasts, destruction, and carnage you would expect from a superhero flick. Where this movie gets held back is how repetitive it gets. Black Adam does not have a stand-out action set piece. Instead, it begins the action and doesn’t stop, entertaining you with the spectacle but not offering anything unique or exciting. While there’s a good amount of collateral damage, you don’t feel any danger or emotional stakes because Black Adam is invincible, and the drama with his character existed centuries ago.
This is The Rock’s second appearance in a 2022 DC movie after DC League of Super-Pets, and this is a very different performance. He strips away a lot of his typical charisma for a very serious tone. Sometimes, the film pulls humor from how serious he is and how he’s a fish out of water in modern times. These moments lead to a few chuckles, especially with how unique Black Adam is and how he does not handle situations the way a typical superhero would. Instead, he’s the anti-Superman fully committed to getting the job done.
However, the tone of the movie can be all over the place. While there are times when it feels like Black Adam is taking itself entirely seriously, there is a young character named Amon Tomaz (Bodhi Sabongui) who serves as a bit of a sidekick to Adam. These action-hero-meets-child scenes not only feel lifted out of other films like Samaritan and Last Action Hero but also feel tonally different. This is where the movie leans into the genre tropes, as Amon encourages Adam to have a cool name and a catchphrase. These jokes worked in a lighthearted film like Shazam! but they feel out of place here.
The supporting cast of characters needs to be more developed as well. We have Aldis Hodge as Hawkman, who provides an excellent foil for Adam because of how much they butt heads. Irish screen veteran Pierce Brosnan enters the DCEU as Doctor Fate, and he has the most remarkable powers in the film with some phenomenally crafted sequences. The film even brings in Noah Centineo of Netflix rom-com fame as Atom Smasher. He provides some humor to the film and works well with Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone. This is a fun group of characters, but by the time the movie wraps things up, you realize how tiny your emotional connection is with them.
Black Adam also features the same issue as Captain Marvel, introducing an impossibly invincible superhero with no emotion and is hard to connect to. Will The Rock face the same scrutiny Brie Larson faced from the internet? Absolutely not. But audiences will have to deal with Black Adam’s repetitive dialogue, which always boils down to a variation of, “I’m not a hero because I kill people.” This is a mediocre, familiar superhero outing with a weak, forgettable villain looking for power. While the movie is always watchable, it feels more like background noise than high art. Sometimes, that’s okay. It’s fun to watch The Rock fly around and make explosions. But for the most part, this movie is emotionally empty and pedestrian.