‘Black Adam’ review: The Rock can’t save another terrible DC movie
Has Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson come to the rescue of the near-dead DC Extended Universe?
Nope. The Rock arrives with the power of a pebble in the new action movie “Black Adam,” in which the popular star plays the titular anti-hero in his first solo outing. It’s just as thoughtless and rancid as the rest of DC Comics’ crummy catalog.
Running time: 124 minutes. Rated PG-13 (sequences of strong violence, intense action and some language). In theaters Oct. 21.
Often the film is far worse — both rushed and overlong — and made me recall the heinous “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” with a grass-is-greener fondness. “Aquaman,” at least, had giant rideable seahorses and Nicole Kidman as a mermaid. “Black Adam” boasts Pierce Brosnan giving a worse performance than when he sang “Knowing Me, Knowing You” in “Mamma Mia!”
Two decades after Johnson mind-numbingly barreled through the sand as “The Scorpion King,” he plays basically the same complicated warrior type only with less hair and zero personality.
A prologue informs us that 5,000 years ago in fictional Kahndaq — could be Egypt, could be the Middle East — a young slave sacrificed himself to free his people and was therefore granted super powers by the ancient wizard from “Shazam!” He becomes Teth-Adam, Kahndaq’s champion.
Back in the present day, the poor city is under military occupation by an evil company called Intergang (the bad guys have “no worries!” Australian accents) and is being plundered for its main natural resource, Eternium. Whatever that is. Director Jaume Collet-Serra’s film appears to be inspired by wars in the Middle East, which is a rather high-minded choice from a movie in which characters frequently yell “SHAZAM!”
While searching for a buried crown artifact, an academic named Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) accidentally unleashes Black Adam, who had been magically trapped for millennia. Freed like the genie, he begins killing and exploding stuff indiscriminately and immediately speaking in colloquial modern English.
Black Adam is out to vanquish those Intergang Aussies and, eventually, Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari), a Kahndaqui traitor who wants to be a supernatural king.
Then the Justice Society of America arrives, with heroes Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Dr. Fate (Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). So now, the butterfingers DCEU is simultaneously juggling the Justice League and the Justice Society? Best of luck, bozos.
Hawkman insists to Adrianna that he has ancient documents that prove Black Adam is not a hero at all, but a dangerous force for destruction. “Tell that to the people he just liberated!” she responds.
All the speechifying about what makes a hero a hero could’ve been cribbed from a college student’s essay written hungover minutes before class.
Adding some levity is Adrianna’s son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), a likable rebel who skateboards around Kahndaq, underscored with “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by the Smashing Pumpkins. A super fan of heroes, he’s our only way into the story.
Otherwise there is a stubborn reluctance to flesh out any characters beyond an adjective or two. Black Adam behaves in a blankly threatening manner like the Terminator, not a man from a rich culture who happens to be able to summon lightning from his fingertips. His dialogue isn’t ancient so much as Neanderthalic.
“Heroes don’t kill!” Hawkman yells at him. Replies Black Adam: “I do.”
Indeed, the bombastic script plays like a two-hour movie trailer.
“Black Adam” brings up the age-old question: Can The Rock act? No, he cannot. Sure, some actors bring nothing but their shining personality to the table, but Johnson doesn’t really have one onscreen — he’s got broad shoulders and a right eyebrow. He’s more fun on talk shows. Whether Black Adam is a complex anti-hero or a swell, relatable guy, it’s his origin story. Johnson needed to take the lead, and instead he is a supporting character in a film made up entirely of supporting characters.
“Black Adam” is closely tied to “Shazam!,” one of DC’s few very enjoyable movies of the past several years. But that was a quirky coming-of-age story set in Philadelphia, and was lucky to have a delightful central performance from Zachary Levi.
That Levi’s superhero movie is better than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s tells you all you need to know about the sorry state of the DC Extended Universe.