Black Adam has been a long time coming. In the 15 years since Dwayne Johnson’s casting, superhero films have become the most successful in the world, and Johnson himself has become an international superstar. Over a decade of development delays have led to Johnson’s super debut as the titular character. It’s also led to one of the most derivative superhero movies in recent memory.
That is especially frustrating, given what Black Adam purports to be. The movie centres on its anti-hero, branding itself as a movie about a different breed of superperson. When he awakens after 5,000 years of slumber, he reintroduces himself to the modern world in murderous fashion. Black Adam isn’t concerned with ethics and legal restrictions, and he’s more than willing to take a life.
He’s not like other superheroes, unless of course you count Deadpool, Wolverine, Batman, and even Superman, all whom have taken lives with no ambiguity and in high definition. As a superhero film, Black Adam positions itself as a breath of fresh air, but feels more akin to a carbon copy. Several of the characters feel like alternates for what’s already been depicted on screen in better films.
While it’s far from original, knocking Black Adam for being derivative feels punitive. The medium of comics is notorious for duplicating abilities and storylines ad infinitum. The worth of a good story isn’t in its originality, but in what it does with its influencing elements. To that end, the film is overall decent, with Johnson delivering on the role with his signature charm and sheer physicality.
Other cast members like Aldis Hodge and Pierce Brosnan join that clan of actors who have played ridiculous superheroes with class, giving their characters respectful portrayals. Their inclusion leads to the film’s strongest material. The two function as American invaders, forcing their moral judgement on the people of Kahndaq, the city Black Adam is sworn to protect.
The film’s commentary on the politics of ‘superheroing’ is brought to a head when Black Adam refuses their interference. The line “Not your child, not your country” rings out, as Black Adam fulfils the power fantasy of a protector for a region subject to the torment of those who would think themselves morally superior, despite their own history of repugnance.
The story at times is nonsensical, with plot holes as big as Dwayne Johnson’s biceps, but it commits no greater sin than your average superhero film in that regard. Its best ideas are the new ones it presents, and it stands on the shoulders of giants to deliver a film with a compelling protagonist, and some slick action, despite some dodgy visuals in the third act that feel like they were due another round of refinement.
Still, for what’s meant to usher in a new era for the DC pantheon, Black Adam is a fair start.
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