black adam: ‘Black Adam’ review: Dwayne Johnson is the only saving grace in an otherwise predictable DC superhero movie

Shortly after “Black Adam”, a tween looks up at Dwayne Johnson’s muscular carcass and asks for his help: “We could use a superhero right now.” Speak for yourself, kid.

Do we need another superhero with another convoluted origin story that stretches back thousands of years and fulfills a crazy fate? Do we really need another group of secondary level heroes to focus on confusion? We are almost 40 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a dozen in the DC Universe. You can almost smell the fumes now, can’t you?

“Black Adam” isn’t bad, it’s just predictable and color-by-numbers, stealing from other movies like an IP supervillain. But Johnson is a natural in the title role, blending power and humor and able to deliver those needed wooden lines. Why he hasn’t had a starring role in a DC or Marvel superhero movie so far is amazing – come on, he’s already transformed into a creepy superhero in street clothes.

Like Marvel’s “Eternals,” “Black Adam” comes off the blocks very slowly with the tangled history of our setting – Kahndaq, a fictional Middle Eastern kingdom in 2,600 BC that has wizards, a bloodthirsty king, a magic crown and Eternium, a rare metal ore with energy-manipulating properties (Hello, Vibranium from ‘Black Panther’).

Flash-forward to the present day, where Kahndaq is under the cruel rule of the organized crime syndicate Intergang and its citizens are ripe for rebellion. They think they may have a leader in Black Adam (here Teth Adam, when introduced), who is freed from his 5,000-year-old grave and is naturally grumpy. Is it a force for good or for evil? (Or for a new sub-franchise?) The answer is yes to all.

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Still, the other superheroes in DC’s pantheon aren’t sure about the new guy and send in what can only be described as plan B muscle from the remaining members of a counterfeit organization called the Justice Society of America.

There’s Doctor Fate (a Doctor Strange in a dollar store played by Pierce Brosnan, who somehow keeps his dignity), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo, sweetly playing a giant dweeby and always hungry), Aldis Hodge as Onenote Hawkman and Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone, who can control – checks notes – the wind. They apparently left the superhero at home with the ability to open jars.

Black Adam is more than a match for all combined. He can fly, move as fast as The Flash, catch rockets, deflect bullets, and harness his own bluish electricity. Most of the time it does this weirdly passive thing of just floating around. “I don’t kneel in front of anyone” he intones, which could explain it.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra and the design team do a great job across the board but are let down by a boozy derivative script by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani that jumps from one violent scene to the next. like a video game in order to paper on a plot both undercooked and overcooked. At one point, with audiences exhausted from all the carnage, they feature skeletons rising like a legion from hell, just what we wanted.

They include plenty of pockets of humor that DC hasn’t always done well – a bit recurring with “Baby Come Back” and teaching Black Adam satire is fun; a Clint Eastwood gag fails – and there may have been three natural endings that piled up before the final, manipulative one. (“It can only end one way,” the script says. Don’t believe it.)

Amidst the banging superheroes are two humans – a rebel leader and his skateboarding and comic book-loving pre-teen son, played superbly by Sarah Shahi and Bodhi Sabongui, respectively. Comedian Mohammed Amer is an indispensable flash of brilliant humor.

Most intriguing – and the most fruitful angle to lean into – is the notion of the hero itself. Members of the Justice Society are shocked to find that they are not seen as heroic by the people of Kahndaq, who have lived 27 years under oppression. Black Adam came to help, even if he is a little more violent. Residents wonder where the guys with all the superpowers were for nearly three decades as they suffered – a nice dig in western nations.

“There are only heroes and villains. Heroes don’t kill people,” says a confused Hawkman. Black Adam responds, “Well, I do.” It’s Shahiby’s character who notes that it’s easy to call someone a hero when you’re the one drawing the line.

Sadly enough is the number of – ahem – callbacks to other films – ‘Tomb Raider’, ‘Back to the Future’ and plenty of ‘Star Wars’ (even, unforgivable, the phrase “You are our only hope”.) It’s a sometimes self-aware movie, like when the kid urges Black Adam to come up with a hook that will sell lunch boxes.

He does, but it doesn’t make much sense: “Tell them, ‘The man in black sent you.'” Wait, was he sent by someone else? Do they mean Johnny Cash? In fact, that may be a clue. What the filmmakers probably had in mind was money – selling those lunch boxes.

“Black Adam”, a Warner Bros. release. Pictures, which hits theaters on Friday, is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, intense action and language. Duration: 124 minutes. Two and a half out of four stars.

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