There is still a sense of DCEU movies missing the point of DC characters
The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is in a… weird place right now. While the best DC film in a long, The Batman, is not a part of the larger continuity, the shared universe does, in fact, have some true gems Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, and The Suicide Squad, to be specific.
And for those looking for the popcorniest or popcorn flicks, Justice League, Aquaman, and SHAZAM! largely hit the spot. Black Adam sits somewhere between these two categories, uniquely an improvement over its sub-franchise predecessor, yet not quite as strong as the above-mentioned trinity.
To be sure, Black Adam is a Dwayne Johnson flick. Not only is he the lead character, but he’s also the producer of the film and, with that, comes some interesting choices. Returning to the somewhat interesting trend of signing on directors familiar with horror (Aquaman’s James Wan, and SHAZAM!’s David Sandberg being the first two), Black Adam is helmed by Jaume Collet-Serra of House of Wax and Orphan fame–more recently, he’s worked with Johnson on Jungle Cruise.
While there isn’t very much in the way of elevating the DCEU’s chances at a better, more cohesive universe as many have hoped, Black Adam is an all-around entertaining film that takes more care of its story and character than most of its fellow franchise entries. For better or worse, however, much of its stronger elements seem to exist purely due to a case of copying the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Story beats, tone, music choices, and even bits of action sequences unabashedly “borrow” from MCU films, and it doesn’t always work. There are many (a little too many) attempts at the MCU-type humour, and they almost always don’t really land. It’s quite obvious that Johnson, having taken on the role of franchise viagra, has deemed that the MCU’s way might be the only way of building a likeable film universe, and has injected as much of it as possible into Black Adam.
A very early scene decides to shoehorn in iconic Rolling Stones number ‘Paint It Black’ to punctuate the impactful end to an action sequence, but comes off less Guardians of the Galaxy, and more X-Men Quicksilver–and I don’t mean the good Days of Future Past scene either, I’m talking the terrible tone-deaf attempt at humour amidst the death of a key character in Apocalypse.
And, collectively raising eyebrows, is the mash of this extremely violent and brutal character being in what might be an incredibly child-friendly movie. Not that this is a bad thing, particularly, just odd.
There are multiple moments in the film that are obviously the subject of re-writes, and they stick out very much like a sore thumb. Thankfully, they tend to die out as the movie settles into its own tone.
It helps that the entire cast is exceptional, and all the actors are more than just suitable for their roles. In fact, it can be argued that Johnson’s performance as The Rock, while not one-note, is the least impressive with Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Shahi, Aldis Hodge, and even Bodhi Sabongui outright stealing scenes. And, although aping Marvel’s humour doesn’t really work, the DCEU may have found its Luis (Michael Pena) in Mohammed Amer’s Karim.
Also, while it remains to be seen if the Black Adam films will continue to build towards the more modern stable of character progress introduced in 2006’s 52, the film delivers an engaging and more than serviceable iteration of the Justice Society.
All four introduced characters work well, and only to the happy detriment of it sometimes feeling more like a Justice Society film rather than a Black Adam film–which may be the first sign, since Wonder Woman, of the DCEU understanding the role of a character in the comics and how best to translate it to film.
As a comic fan, particularly a Justice Society and Black Adam fan, there are many missed opportunities that are very apparent in the film. There is the excessive (though, perhaps, necessary) simplification of Black Adam’s character, and the lack of acknowledgment of the character’s history with Doctor Fate and Hawkman feels like an almost fatal oversight in building towards a better shared universe.
The Justice Society is presented more like, well, pretty much any other DC team as opposed to the actual Justice Society, and it feels like the team was chosen only to entice fans familiar with the characters in the comics.
But gripes on source material superiority, and potential world-building aside, Black Adam is a surprisingly conscientiously written movie. Although there’s a sense of the movie being more diamond in the rough than a true gem, it is still one of the very few DCEU films where the cast and crew seem to have read the script prior to (and maybe even during) filming.
Also, yes, there is a mid-credits scene, and it is totally worth the wait.