In Black Adam, Dwayne Johnson Rejects the Hero Part of Being a Superhero: Review

The newest DC Comics adaptation features some fresh choices and a strong supporting cast

Black Adam Review Dwayne Johnson

The Pitch: Thousands of years ago, in the fictional Middle Eastern kingdom of Kahndaq, an evil king enslaved his people to mine for a precious ore. One young boy rose up to challenge the king, and his bravery was noticed by some wizards with the ability to grant the pure-of-heart awe-inspiring powers. (Cool idea for a superhero origin — definitely sounds familiar.) Stories about what happened to the boy once he was able to harness those powers and defeat the king are vague, but the resulting hero, known as Teth Adam (Dwayne Johnson), was not heard from again.

Until the present day, that is, a time when Kahndaq is largely under the control of outside mercenaries who are also trying to mine for the unobtanium vibranium adamantium eternium there. Despite their strict control, the mercenaries can’t seem to track down Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), a resistance fighter/university professor whose knowledge of relics enables her to summon Teth Adam from his dormant state — just in time to protect her and her son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), and maybe save Kahndaq itself.

The catch is that Teth Adam’s not the only super-powered person around — and while he has no interest in being a hero, there are a few actual good guys who have a problem with his tactics. Not to mention that after the discovery of the evil king’s crown (made of eternium), a whole new threat is in store…

Not All Capes Are Worn by Heroes: It’s a curious time for DC Comics at the movies, due largely to the lack of a strong corporate/creative strategy that would unify the multiple ongoing projects into one interconnected franchise. But despite that, Black Adam leans hard into its place as a part of a larger story, not hiding the character’s connections to Shazam and ultimately ending with a tease of more action to come.

It’d be easy but time-consuming to list the ways that Black Adam follows the well-established patterns of comic book adaptations today, so instead let’s acknowledge what makes it different. Black Adam (a name he doesn’t claim immediately, but let’s just call him that for simplicity’s sake) rejects the idea of being a hero — this is a point the movie is very, very unsubtle about. His appearance in modern times causes Suicide Squad stalwart Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, technically phoning in her role via viewscreens, but nonetheless as much of a badass as ever) to enlist some “real” heroes to keep him in check.

Enter the Justice Society (not to be confused with the Justice League, natch), represented here by winged badass Carter Hall/Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), wind-powered super-genius Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), able-to-embiggen-himself Al Rothstein/Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and clairvoyant Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan). There’s some blunt force exposition required to set up all their different powers (not to mention vague hints of backstory), but the ad hoc team’s chemistry actually gels pretty well, with Hodge proving to have real leadership grit, while Centineo delivers plenty of goofy, awkward charm.

Black Adam Review Dwayne Johnson
Black Adam (Warner Bros.)

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