Way back when, in the year of 2007, before the idea of cinematic universes were even conceptualized or Christopher Nolan redefined the superhero genre with The Dark Knight, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was cast as the DC anti-hero Black Adam. Usually when it comes to casting for films that don’t get out of production hell for years, the actors involved end up quietly leaving the project and eventually open up about what went wrong years later during interviews. However, Dwayne Johnson has always been completely adamant for the last fifteen years to his commitment to seeing through his casting as Black Adam and delivering a worthy adaptation to a character he loves so much. Jump ahead to 2022, where the DC Extended Universe is eleven-films deep and simultaneously have off-shoots like Joker or The Batman at play as well – Black Adam is finally arriving to theaters, with Johnson finally donning the mantle he promised us so many years ago.
I can only assume one of the biggest draws to Johnson about the character of Black Adam was the nature of him being an anti-hero, as the parallels between him and Johnson’s own wrestling person of The Rock are absolutely undeniable. The notion of an anti-hero isn’t exactly an uncommon theme within the superhero genre right now as both Suicide Squad and Deadpool are pretty respectable and successful franchises full of morally questionable characters, but what makes Black Adam interesting is how it, at least at times, wants to dig into the question of what a hero actually is. The film follows Black Adam (Johnson) as he’s awakened from his 5,000 years of slumber in his homeland of Kahndaq and met to an immensely different world than what he remembers. Adam’s path for justice and freeing the citizens of Kahndaq from more oppressors and militarization puts him on a straight-path towards encountering the Justice Society of America featuring the likes of Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and Cyclone (Quintensse Swindell) – a group of individuals who are definitely more traditional heroes than Black Adam is.
A lot of the pros of this movie lie within the JSA’s involvement with the story. This isn’t to say these characters outshine The Rock in his own movie (although Brosnan and especially Hodge give him a run for his money) – but these characters perfectly juxtapose Black Adam as a character and present the themes in a really fun, engaging way. Not only is it fun to see these characters fight it out, but it’s even more intense and exciting to see them debate about the right methods of saving the day. One of the best elements here is that each sides genuinely challenge each other with compelling points about heroism and where to draw the line. It feels like a genuinely nuanced and exciting approach to the tired idea of the anti-hero.
Even with all of that being said and the fact that I do appreciate when it digs for deeper themes and character dynamics, the films’ story is almost entirely told within its action. Sometimes, this makes Black Adam a break-neck experience in the sense that you can almost never get bored as so much is happening at any given point. On the other hand, it does make the experience feel a bit weightless in hindsight. I’m more inclined to mark the use of action in the films narrative as a positive, but for future instalments I think the characters would benefit from more breathing room inbetween the spectacle of it all.
Is Black Adam worth the fifteen years of anticipation? It really depends on how you like your superhero fare, but as for me, I found it to be a solidly entertaining time at the theater with Johnson solidifying himself firmly into the role. While the film is filled to the brim with macguffins, plot conveniences galore, a weak villain, and cheesy dialogue and characters for days – there is a very old-school, earnest vibe that this film has going for it that I genuinely appreciated. It was deeply entertaining to see so many goofy comic-book elements like Doctor Fate or the mythology of Black Adam dug into with genuine care here, as well as finally seeing Johnson don the mantle of the titular hero. It won’t exactly be anyone’s favorite DC entry, but it feels like a solid entry to the canon and delivers a character I’d genuinely really like to see grow in the universe.