Review: When Black Adam isn’t trying to piece together narrative fragments into a puzzle without any inside pieces, it’s cramming in every genre trope at its disposal. The action is clunky and unengaging and relentless, bludgeoning you with one horribly rendered CGI fighting sequence after another. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson fails to deliver a new hierarchy for the now-defunct DC extended universe.
For many of the film reviews and critiques that I write on new releases, I like to sit down after my screening and take some overarching notes – points I want to hit on in my writing, characteristics that stood out in particular, performances that may have been great or abysmal, etc. In a way, I try to make a pros and cons list so that I can begin to etch out why someone may be drawn towards a film or feel like they are being pushed away.
So there I was, sitting down to begin writing this review of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s newest DC cinematic universal crossover Black Adam, a film that tries so hard to balance the impossible tasks of appeasing to the aura and draw of The Rock, while also tonally fitting him into an expanded universe where he sticks out like a sore thumb. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but if you aren’t a fan of either the film’s titular lead actor, or the genre mechanics that this superhero film struggles to maintain, go in with a cautious mind because this film will challenge you to think whether the invention of the moving image was a successful and necessary one.
That may be rather harsh because I didn’t hate all movies after leaving my cinema, I just hated this one. There’s no better place to start than its exposition-heavy first act that proves to be both unnecessary and untrustworthy by the second half of the film. Because much like The Rock’s last outing Jungle Cruise, Black Adam doles out backstory in waves. Every plot point and story device leads to a flashback of epically flat proportions.
When Black Adam isn’t trying to piece together narrative fragments into a puzzle without any inside pieces, it’s cramming in every genre trope at its disposal. The action is clunky and unengaging, but also constant. I’m not quite sure if Black Adam had a script, or a handful of action sequences squiggled abruptly onto a white board because each scene is held together by a thin line of yarn.
The supporting cast is rocky at best. Not a single member of the newly-put-to-screen Justice Society makes any lasting impact with their time, and the civilians aren’t much better. A lot of Black Adam falls on its title character to lift it up, and while The Rock may be the strongest man in the industry, his acting chops aren’t on the same level.
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Black Adam tries to have it both ways – building The Rock up to be a mysterious anti-hero capable of mass destruction or saving the world, and playing to the ego and risk-averse nature that generally comes with casting the mega-rich superstar. It is a pitiful premise to build an entire release around, and the execution is even worse.
Its lasting impact on the DCEU is muddied. While the Justice Society could play an important part down the line, and with Shazam! Fury of the Gods releasing next year, who knows? But I have a hard time believing newly-promoted James Gunn is going to look at this character and this film and find it a cornerstone for DC projects in the future. At the same time, it did promising box office numbers initially and is primed to have sequel speculation in the future.
All I’ll say is that I sure hope I’m not sitting down a few years from now racking my brain for thoughts and attempting to jot down positives I had after seeing Black Adam 2. I dread the day that happens, but I already know it’s coming. For now, I can safely say Black Adam may quite possibly be the worst film of 2022.
Watch Black Adam (2022) on Netflix, Max, and VOD here
Black Adam Movie Cast and Credits
Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam
Aldis Hodge as Hawkman
Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher
Sarah Shahi as Adrianna Tomaz
Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone
Marwan Kenzari as Ishmael
Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cinematography: Lawrence Sher
Composer: Lorne Balfe