The latest superhero movie is a forgettable CGI-filled affair
One would think that after all the super-hero origin films we’ve had in the last decade-plus, studios would have enough material to develop existing characters. Apparently not, as we have yet another super-powered origin story, only this time, with the added twist that he’s an anti-hero.
Black Adam (2022) takes place in the DC Universe of Superman and Batman. The fictional Middle-Eastern country of Kahndaq is rife with exploiting mercenaries, but when archeologist Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) uncovers an ancient tomb, she awakens a being that had been dormant for 5,000 years: Teth Adam (Dwayne Johnson). With powers rivaling those of the most powerful superheroes (flight, lightning, bullet-proof, super-strength), American operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) mobilizes superhero team the Justice Society to capture him.
The film is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who made his way through the mid-budget action thriller genre of Liam Neeson movies, before jumping onto blockbusters with such films as last year’s Jungle Cruise (2021). With Black Adam Collet-Serra fully makes the transition to mindless blockbuster. As with his other films, the Spaniard is unable to give too distinct a look to his films, which are devoid of any distinct style. This makes Black Adam feel much more like a factory product than an individual’s creative vision. Just as with Jungle Cruise, Collet-Serra also relies heavily on CGI for everything from his setting, to his action scenes, and even his characters’ costumes. This over-working of the visual effects department taxes them to the point that everything looks fake and computer generated. The result is a film that is a mishmash of CGI thrown onto the screen.
To have to undergo another superhero origin is something that audiences simply shouldn’t have to suffer again. As such, much of the first third of this film with the “fish-out-of-water” beats feels incredibly stale. Black Adam also seemed to have been under a quota from the studio of having to deliver pointless action scenes every 10 minutes. This makes for increasingly low stakes for every fight, as you can obviously predict our heroes are going to be fine. Collet-Serra can’t donate much creativity or intensity to his fight and fantasy sequences either, making them seem interchangeable and forgettable once they end.
Black Adam did start to get intriguing when it posited the questions of western heroes coming to the Middle-East to “save” people from themselves. While it’s jarring to see children in the film encouraging Teth Adam to murder men to solve their issues, the counterargument of rejecting the Justice Society who comes to their country and tells them how to run it, is an interesting one. However, once you start to piece out what Black Adam is saying with this, it becomes more problematic. Does the Middle-East’s only superhero have to be a violent and destructive one? One that is constantly battling Americans? Is violence the only way to solve a broken country’s issues?
Johnson as the lead anti-hero doesn’t have much to do in a character that is mostly silent and angry, though his physique surely does impress. The members of the Justice Society were more convincing and colorful, but largely remained one-note characters. Pierce Brosnan is a standout as the Doctor Strange-like Doctor Fate, lending a surprising depth to an otherwise superficial character. There was also some welcome chemistry between the rookie superhero characters of Cyclone and Atom Smasher played by Quintessa Swindwell and Noah Centineo respectively. These prove to be promising seeds for their characters to appear in future films.
In the end, Black Adam proves to be a forgettable and cliché superhero movie. The finale is of course ripe with a sky-beam, fake-out deaths, and an army of weak minions that side characters can distract themselves with. The anti-hero aspect is not played with enough and the larger anti-colonial commentary sloppily starts to turn against the film when you stop to think about it. This results into an interchangeable and CGI-dizzying film that fades away from your memory as you exit the theater.