Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (“Jungle Cruise,” “Non-Stop”), “Black Adam” is the latest entry in the DC Extended Universe. The film is an anti-hero take on the superhero genre while being a high-energy thrill the whole time.
The film follows the titular Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson), who was granted the powers of a god and freed the enslaved kingdom of Kahndaq before being put into isolation for millennia. In modern Kahndaq, resistance fighter Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) and her son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) awaken the jaded Adam, and he ruthlessly helps in the fight against the country’s colonial oppressors. Joining the team are heroes from the Justice Society, whose morals clash with Adam’s.
Premiering in theaters during a time of superhero burnout, the strength of “Black Adam” is its tone which seamlessly blends grittiness with a sense of humor and upends the genre.
The biggest scene-setter for the movie’s dark tone is Adam’s anti-hero nature. The character constantly brings up his desire to savagely kill anyone who stands in his way, leading to a film that’s more morbid than expected.
This punk feeling extends beyond the plot, too. Composed by Lorne Balfe (“Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” “Call of Duty” series), the film’s soundtrack is a mashup of grunge rock and epic orchestral music. In addition to the original soundtrack, the movie features badass songs like “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by the Smashing Pumpkins.
Also adding to the gritty tone of the movie are its flashy visual effects. Ranging from people’s faces being melted by lightning to demons being ripped apart and bleeding lava, the film’s hardcore style gets more definition through providing a spectacle that’s just as metal.
While “Black Adam” leans into this gloomy style, though, it never takes itself too seriously, with Collet-Serra injecting a good amount of humor into the movie.
One of the strongest elements of this over-the-top style is the hilarious side of Johnson’s take on Adam. Following the trope of throwing someone from the past into the present, the film matches Adam’s angst with his confusion about the modern world and its rules that clash with his morals.
It’s this gritty-yet-comedic style that raises “Black Adam” above the countless identical superhero films that tend to leave audiences bored and wanting something more. Looking back at the extensive catalogue of Marvel and DC movies, so many feel overly realistic or way too over-the-top. By blending the two, “Black Adam” creates a refreshing experience.
Helping create this tone is the stellar acting from the cast, with Johnson’s take on the anti-hero sticking out. Every time Johnson’s character speaks, his exaggerated angst is obvious. Without even talking, he can convey the broody nature of Adam through his death glare and angry posture.
The rest of the characters serve as a nice balance to Johnson. The teenaged Amon — played by Sabongui — brings out a lighter side of Adam, and his childlike wonder compliments the film’s dark tone. Also keeping the plot captivating are Aldis Hodge and Pierce Brosnan, who portray Hawkman and Dr. Fate of the Justice Society. The two capture the goodhearted nature of the group, and their conflict with Johnson’s Adam is captivating.
While “Black Adam” as a whole is innovative within the superhero genre, the film occasionally threatens to undo its successes through its story, which is sometimes convoluted and too fast-paced.
One of the most obvious and immediate hurdles in the plot is the amount of confusing lore it relies on. Within the first five minutes of the movie, we’re introduced to the ancient land of Kahndaq, the Council of Wizards, the Crown of Sabbac and a slew of other phrases that mean nothing to viewers initially and just leave them with whiplash.
Additionally, right as the film starts to lay a base for all of this lore, the plot takes off at lightning speed. Jumping from plot points, the film definitely stays engaging, but this is sometimes at the expense of the audience knowing what’s going on.
This occasional confusion of the plot is easy to look past, though, when the film keeps the viewer entertained regardless. What “Black Adam” leaves audiences with is a thrilling rush of pumped-up energy and a relief from superhero burnout.