Review: Black Adam

What’s most compelling, if not downright shocking, about Jaume Collet-Serra’s attempt to inject some much needed thematic mojo into the so-called DC Extended Universe is that while the origin story of a character that was mostly relegated to either villain or minor hero status is given A-level treatment, it doesn’t necessarily elevate the character himself to full-fledged superhero status. For one thing, Collet-Serra’s reputation has been built mainly on thrillers and horror films, and the requisite battle scenes in Black Adam that show the protagonist laying waste to hordes of attackers are quite graphic when compared to your average superhero blockbuster, including those involving the MCU. But even more striking is the overt politics behind the violence. The scenes that take place in our own time are set in a fictional northern African country that scans Muslim/Arab, and the main conflict is between Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson), a kind of demigod whose body was entombed for 5,000 tears by an evil king, and the Justice Society of America, which very clearly represents the Western forces that occupy the region both militarily and economically. Black Adam is, to use a crude term from the past, a third world liberator.

So the carnage that ensues in the usual predictable manner is unleashed upon the products of the military-industrial complex, which doesn’t enjoy the usual proper payback in the end; and that’s quite a change for a Hollywood movie of this scale and ambition. In that regard, Johnson, the biggest American movie star of the moment in terms of box office cred, is a revelation, because he seriously has it in for these (mostly white) mercenaries, even as his understanding of what’s actually going on is depicted as being naive. Johnson’s skills as a showman (from playing the heel in hundreds of pro wrestling bouts) serve him well in a role who villainous attributes are brought to bear on the kind of oppressors his type of character usually represents in these films. 

The ringers are the relatively new additions to the DCEU that comprise the Justice Society—Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). With only Brosnan distinguishing himself as a star presence, the group can’t possibly assert itself on the screen in the shadow of Johnson, and each member essentially cancels one another out for your attention. It’s up to the civilians, let by local resistance fighter Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), to inform the besuited interlopers that they have been summoned to put down a force that, whether he knows it or not, is protecting “the people.” Had the writers maintained the integrity of their early convictions, Black Adam might have been a biting indictment of all that’s hypocritical about the ultra-violent superhero genre, but in the end all the various parties have to align with conventional Manichean types for a hackneyed laser-and-space-bending battle to the death, which in this case is that of the real villain, a descendant of the evil king known as Sabbac (Marwan Kenzari). The transgression was nice while it lasted. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Marunouchi Piccadilly ((050-6875-0075), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Black Adam home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2022 Warner Bors. Ent. All Rights Reserved TM & (c) DC

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