Black Adam Collapses under the Weight of Its Own Expectations

by Connor Pugh ‘24

The 2008 release of Iron Man marked the beginning of what would become 14 long years of near complete domination of the film industry by superhero films, and shows little sign of stopping anytime soon. Warner Bros. arrived late to the superhero film scene, releasing the first film in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe), Man of Steel in 2013, after its main competitor Marvel Studios already completed “Phase one” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with the release of The Avengers a year before. Now there are 29 films and eight shows in the MCU, with at least two films coming out every year to continuous commercial success. In this situation of superhero movie oversaturation, DC released Black Adam on October 21, a film its main star Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson promises will change the hierarchy of power in the DCEU and be something to remember for years to come.

To stand out amidst the abundance of superhero movies, Black Adam had to live up to the promises it set for itself and exceed expectations. There has to be a reason for people to come back to the film; a reason for someone to pick out Black Adam among the sea of mediocrity and be able to say that it did something unique. Unfortunately, Black Adam fails to live up to its own promises, delivering a profoundly lukewarm experience that is never abhorrently bad, but struggles to create a memorable experience and break free from the clichés that define the modern superhero movie.

Black Adam tells the story of Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson), a slave who lived 5,000 years ago in the fictional civilization of Khandaq and was given godlike powers to free his people from a tyrannical king before never being heard from again. Now in the present day, when the modern country of Khandaq is under the control of a military organization called the Intergang, Teth-Adam is freed from a mysterious imprisonment by Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) and immediately begins killing everyone. Teth-Adam’s quick work of Intergang catches the attention of the Justice Society, and a team of the superheroes—Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Hawkman (Aldis Hodge)—is assembled to stop Teth-Adam before he causes great harm to innocent people.

The setting of Black Adam is one of its weakest aspects, a crude amalgamation of Middle Eastern stereotypes to create a color palette that entirely consists of browns and yellows, with maybe an occasional red thrown in for pizazz. Most of the story is instead told through the characters, as the conflict between Teth-Adam and the Justice Society becomes an allegory for imperialism and what happens when the people in power determine what is good and bad. Unfortunately, instead of developing these themes in any meaningful way, the Justice Society and Teth-Adam settle their differences in a hand-wavy fashion after a couple fights and team up to battle with the generic third-act villain and save the day.

There were many moments in the film that proved Black Adam had the capability to tell a mature and thoughtful story, even if it wouldn’t have been very subtle. It could’ve given a reason for someone to come back and watch the movie again, or at the very least want to stick with the DCEU and see what it can do with future films and narratives. Nevertheless Black Adam focused more on what other superhero films were doing and emulating the tried and true formula instead of trying to do what it could do that other superhero films cannot. Black Adam had a lot of potential to be more than just an average superhero movie, but instead it resigned itself to the fate of forgettable dullness.

Grade: C-