The next entry in the DCEU (or whatever they’re calling it now) has dropped in the form of Black Adam. The Dwayne Johnson-led film follows the titular hero/villain as he’s freed from his tomb, ready to exact justice on the modern world.
I didn’t go into Black Adam with the highest of hopes. DC’s interconnected projects have waned in quality, with some big hits and some duds, resulting in a little loss of faith. However, I can safely say that faith has been somewhat restored with Black Adam – a thoroughly enjoyable and action-packed ride that left me satisfied. Quite possibly the most pleasing element is that it felt unlike most other superhero films, yet still familiar. The narrative isn’t entirely new, but the way the acts are structured meant I didn’t really know what was coming next (besides the obvious plot outline). It was a pleasantly unpredictable surprise, especially for a superhero origin story. I knew what had to happen in the end, but I didn’t know how the film was going to accomplish that, and that was a great experience.
Take the recent Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder, for example – two enjoyable films that were fun first-time watches. Both stories simply blend in to the ever-expanding pool of superhero films, harbouring the same old structure. Meanwhile Black Adam is a refreshing entry that I can see watching end enjoying without the urge to fast-forward through the downtime… since there’s not much there. Yes, there’s some cliché plot conveniences just to speed things up, but they’re very minor instances.
Much of the unpredictable nature stems from the structuring and placement of its action sequences. The first two acts are so action-packed that the narrative just bleeds out of one and into the next seamlessly. There’s a moment of downtime before the third act hit where I stopped for a moment and realised the vast majority of the film had been fuelled by its action. Now, we’re not talking on the level of the non-stop action in the John Wick films, but there’s just such a diverse range of fun conflicts in here that you barely notice time passing. Almost from the moment the central arc kicks into gear, it’s focused entirely on progressing the story and thrusting our characters into large-scale conflicts, with rapid pacing that wastes absolutely no time.
In terms of the characters, I like how the film handles the majority, while it could have done a better job with others. It seems to be common practise for a DC film to introduce a flurry of characters all at once… ahem Justice League. That’s no different here. By bringing in the Justice Society, the film sees the arrival of Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). The strongest of the bunch is absolutely Dr. Fate, he has the most interesting arc and also the most to do within the story. On top of that, he’s played by a very suave Pierce Brosnan who fits the persona perfectly. Was Pierce in the suit during the action sequences? Absolutely not, but his dialogue goes a long way to creating some engaging scenes. Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman is also a solid character, exhibiting a great bond with Dr. Fate that you feel through Hodge and Brosnan’s performances.
On the downside, Atom Smasher and Cyclone just don’t work. Their characters just don’t really belong in the tone of this film. They feel like they’re ripped out of James Gunn’s more comedy-focused The Suicide Squad. I understand that they’re the younger, more hip members of the Justice Squad, but their linked arc come across as forced. Uninteresting and unfunny, they’re the film’s biggest flaw… aside from another antagonist who is about as throwaway as a throwaway villain can get. I will give props to Sarah Shahi who is good as Adrianna Tomaz. She gives a convincing performance and crafts a strong, likeable character along the way.
However, this is obviously Dwayne Johnson’s time to shine. He’s been championing this movie and this character for so long that it’s great to finally see him in action. If there was one guaranteed thing about this movie, it was that Dwayne would nail the role, and he does. He plays the role in a way that seems very one-note early on, but gradually adds layers to the character to really flesh him out. A couple of times he goes for his classic little one-lines. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but it’s not a bad thing either way. If anything, his leading performance in here gives me confidence he could have a big role in the DCEU going forward.
In the end, Black Adam is a pleasant surprise. The story feels familiar in some ways and unique in others – a journey that doesn’t just take a straightforward cookie-cutter approach. It makes a name for itself by focusing on its action and delivering tonnes of it through both the first and second acts. It’s a fast-paced narrative that’s genuinely entertaining, resulting in an experience that flies by. A fun rollercoaster ride at its core, anyone looking forward to the DCEU’s future should check this one out.