The best part of DC’s “Black Adam” is the character Cyclone. Portrayed by Quintessa Swindell, the C-list superhero with the power to control the wind dazzles on screen. She drifts through action sequences surrounded by fluorescent trails of color, and when shot in slow motion, she’s a simple joy to watch.
Unfortunately, “Black Adam” isn’t about Cyclone. “Black Adam” is about Black Adam, a superhero portrayed by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson has called the film the “most important role of my career,” but unfortunately most of what The Rock is cooking fails to make Black Adam a satisfying meal.
The plot of “Black Adam” is just unnecessarily complicated. In it, Johnson is an enslaved person from ancient Kahndaq (a fictional middle-eastern country), who seeks vengeance on a tyrannical king. Revived ian the modern world, he takes the role of an antihero–a champion for the people, but one whose disregard for human life angers others. The movie takes multiple flashbacks spread throughout its runtime to explain this backstory. And instead of a solo movie about The Rock killing bad guys, the film introduces four other superheroes as well – the Justice Society of America. But there is a strange sincerity to it – the film has plenty of jokes, but no one ever mocks superhero Hawkman’s goofy costume or the name “Atom Smasher.” In this case, the audience, rather than the characters, are laughing when the villain transforms into a man with a pentagram on his chest. The film makes room for plenty of references to the original comics (such as Johnson yelling “Shazam!” to activate his superpowers) which might impress diehard fans, but are bound to confuse most viewers.
The movie poses the question, “What if a superhero was a bad guy?” which it later refines to “What should a superhero do?” At first, the discussion is painfully uninteresting (in one particularly insightful line, Hawkman insists, “Superheroes don’t kill people”), but it begins to grasp more gripping ideas. In the film, Kahndaq is ruled by the tyrannical Intergang, and its citizens point out that the Justice Society of America only seems interested in maintaining the status quo, and never cared to save them from the criminal syndicate. The critique of American intervention overseas (as well as the general idea of a superhero) is welcome, but doesn’t go far. The answer the film seems to come to is that being a superhero is whatever you want it to be. “Black Adam” leaves these ideas by the wayside in its later minutes in favor of more lightning bolts and magic spells.
Thankfully, the action in “Black Adam” is commendable. Nowhere in the film’s runtime are you ever more than minutes away from a punch or fire blast. And because the film includes a total of six distinct superheroes, the flashing colors aren’t as repetitive as they easily could be. “Black Adam” also makes use of ample (definitely too much) slow motion which can add weight to some moments, but makes others look woefully silly. The resulting movie is a variety pack of special effects, both adequate and amusing. In many ways, one’s enjoyment of “Black Adam” rests on their willingness to laugh at it.
Like its antihero, “Black Adam” isn’t good or bad. It’s the unspoken third option. The film plays like a flurry of half-baked ideas, begging to tell a simpler story. Ironically, it could have benefited from more Black Adam. For those along for the ride, the film is plenty of fun, but for most, “Black Adam” is just the start to what could’ve been a really great movie.