Heroism, But Make It Cliche

Heroism, But Make It Cliche

Nothing about “Black Adam” is so bad that it shouldn’t be watched, but there is also nothing other than the allure of Dwayne Johnson. So there is nothing that makes it worth rushing out to see. The film’s few minor positives come from its one major issue, which is its place in the DC corporate-cinematic empire. 

“Black Adam” is not an easy story to follow, especially as it creates no desire to follow it. The basic plot seems fairly simple, though convoluted and wholly lacking in interest. Kahndaq is a fictional Middle Eastern country being ruled by a military dictatorship. Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), an archaeologist, puts together a team to dig for the Crown of Sabbac. She believes the crown can confer great power, which she could use to overthrow the regime.

She finds the crown, but all hell breaks loose, and so does Black Adam (Johnson), whom Adrianna accidentally frees. Government troops arrive to take the crown back, upon which Black Adam starts killing everybody, tossing them, melting them with a touch, and so on. Missiles can’t stop him. Nothing can stop him. Nothing can stop the awfulness. This is super cliche and predictable.

Some other superheroes are called in, and these are strictly second-tier entries, not a Batman in the bunch. There’s Hawkman, played by Aldis Hodge; Cyclone, played by Quintessa Swindell; and Dr. Fate, played by Pierce Brosnan, who apparently doesn’t think he has enough money. The one perverse almost-pleasure of “Black Adam” is in watching Brosnan try to invest emotion in a role that’s as solid as wet tissue paper. Very unoriginal superheroes and sloppy writing from D.C.

Oh, yes, and there’s another superhero, one called Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), whose claim to fame is that he can make himself enormous. That’s it. He makes himself really big. That’s so creative! How did anybody ever come up with that?

Black Adam' Review: The Rock's Big, Loud Supervillain Hit Is Basically Fine  - CNET
Poor execution on C.G.I. made some parts of the movie laughable, with bad quality that left it looking like a cartoon

It isn’t as terrible as many of the high-profile, high-budget C.G.I. superhero extravaganzas that have mostly replaced studio filmmaking. It compiles the industry’s and the genre’s bad habits into a single, over a two-hour package. “Black Adam” feels like a placeholder for a movie that has yet to be made, but in its bare and shrugged-off sufficiency, it accomplishes one good thing though. That, if nothing else, it at least explains its success. Despite the film’s churning action and intricately jerry-rigged plot, Johnson, its real-life superhero, is largely left undisturbed.

The fact that superhero movies swiftly outgrew their favorable reception among the critics is in part due to those seemingly endless possibilities. With only a few notable exceptions, such as “Ant-Man,” “Black Panther,” and “Man of Steel” (or, for that matter, brief exceptional interludes within unexceptional films, such as “Doctor Strange”), these films have production demands that tend to dominate the imagination of direction. These films are ultra-high-budget tentpole productions intended for international consumption. Being reduced to the toolkit of cinematic bureaucracy by the limitless toy chest of C.G.I. has a morally dreadful and artistically sad effect.

Finding children’s literature that is changed for adults is no less depressing because most of the innocent joy is lost and any valid concerns are crammed in before being dismissed with glitz and noise. “Black Adam,” which lacks any discernible artistic viewpoint, offers a moral universe with no clear boundaries, a personal one with low stakes, a political one that invites interpretation, and an audiovisual universe that recycles tired tropes and overused devices for a business experiment that might as well wear its significance in its title.