Black Adam: The Whole Is Better Than The Parts

Black Adam still of Black Adam (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) with a hooded cape, and a black suit.

Thanks to some of the cast, and the action, Black Adam ekes out a thumbs up from me. 

Black Adam, based on a character from DC comics, is one of only two films dropping in theaters this year after WB’s culling, does not belong in the dungeons of awful films. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, with screenplay by Adam Szytkiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, the movie is an origin story for Black Adam’s present-day existence.  But the one thing I noticed watching the film was silence. Some comedic moments fell flat; few cheers accompanied fights because the film is not epic. Black Adam falls into that murky first-viewing realm where criticism and praise are neck and neck. 

Which, as a critic, leaves me in even murkier waters because my review could go either way, but I lean toward favorable. Although Black Adam does not inspire the intense emotions of a typical blockbuster superhero flick, its action, mild humor, cute character duos, and story make it watchable and even re-watchable. Still, I enjoyed 2016’s Suicide Squad for Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn portrayal, and Will Smith made me laugh too.

Black Adam’s Tale As Old As Time

When people are oppressed, eventually they get fed the f*ck up. The film opens with a depiction of ancient Kahndaq, its people enslaved until a child challenged their treatment, despite his father’s warnings. When the ruler’s men captured the kid and prepared to execute him, he disappeared. Granted powers, the child fought to free the people of Kahndaq. In the present day, Kahndaq’s citizens are not free. One citizen, Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), fights for their freedom alongside others, searching for a supernatural crown. Her son, played by Bodhi Sabongui, wants to join in despite his mother’s urgings to focus on school. Some ish happens, and Black Adam awakens. 

Black Adam Has Comedy Pairs That Work When Together

Black Adam still of Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) punching the ground and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) kneeling on the ground near him.
Black Adam still of Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

The parallel between past and present comes immediately and may seem cliched in Black Adam, but actor Bodhi Sabongui is a bright spot in the film. His humor and relationship with Black Adam (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) stood out the most in the movie. As he lectures Black Adam on how to make himself marketable, you flash to movies like Hancock. But this is more entertaining because it is a teen who knows more about brand strategy thanks to social media. This is how it feels when kids lecture older adults about technology or social media. 

Dwayne Johnson knows comedic timing. He has proven it in films like The Gameplan and the Fast & Furious franchise. Here, the hilarity falters at times. Though it is Dwayne Johnson, so when he falters, Johnson is still compelling to watch. Plenty of movies deliver entertaining films with shallow characters, but it feels glaring at times here. Bodhi’s spirited portrayal balances with Dwayne Johnson’s dialed-down performance, so Johnson improves as the film progresses. 

Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman character is as angry as Black Adam but feels more righteous. His default expressions are wide-eyed glare or a squinty smolder. The one time he shows emotions, it feels out of character because of the lack of emotional connection between the characters. It is like, “sure, you said you liked me, but I didn’t know you liked me liked me.” He does stand out better than Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) because their joint comedic timing works. Atom Smasher’s lack of direction and shy, awkward humor are similar to actors’ various iterations of Peter Parker, but I did chuckle here and there.  

Characters With Potential Are Largely Unseen, While Others Deliver Crickets

Black Adam still of Black Adam (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) standing and looking off camera.
Black Adam still of Black Adam (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

The actor for Adrianna’s brother, Karim, Mohammed Amer, had more misses than hits with his jokes. And there was no one to help him. Watching Karim sing along to Player’s 1977 hit, “Baby Come Back,” is annoying because it felt like the actor had poor singing for the audience’s sake rather than it being a character trait. Sarah Shahi’s delivered mixed acting. Sometimes she sells it, others not so much. You see the effort to act rather than the character. 

I wish they did more with Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) since their abilities look gorgeous, and Quintessa is noticeable onscreen. Hopefully, they have Quintessa in another film where they can show range. Pierce Brosnan’s underdeveloped Doctor Fate, same as Hawkman, looks blank. Like a blank expression with mild surprise.

PG-13 Rating Detracted From Fight Sequences

There were no surprises in this movie. Black Adam telegraphed clues, some with neon signs, trumpet-sounding obvious foreshadowing. So every “surprise” gets an “I knew it.” Still, even without surprises, the action sequences do some of the entertainment lifting as Black Adam fights in the air, on land, tosses people around, or resorts to fisticuffs. Black Adam deserved an R rating, as more bloodshed would benefit these fight sequences with raised stakes. The phrase, it is good, but not great sums up Black Adam

The creators did not know how to juggle gravity and comedy, so both struggled. Despite clear challenges, the laughs do roll in because some shine even with little to work with. Black Adam is not one of the films I vow never to watch again. Thanks to some of the cast, and the action, Black Adam ekes out a thumbs up from me. I would watch it again and I am interested in a sequel, especially as Black Adam becomes acclimated to the present-day world.

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