Over the years, the DC Expanded Universe (DCEU) has had its hits and misses, leaving audiences quite unsure of what direction it should take.
The mess started on the set of Justice League with a theatrical release in 2017 hounded by poor reviews and bullying allegations against replacement director Joss Whedon, a recruit from Marvel Studios’ Avengers. It did not help on the optics that the so-called Snyder Cut - a four-hour version of Zack Snyder’s Justice League released in 2021 on streaming platforms HBO Max and HBO GO, received much acclaim, dividing the fandom even more.
Of course, there are standalone movies under the DCEU banner that came out pretty good - Aquaman, Shazam!, and The Suicide Squad - yet you get a sense that these movies are trying to distance themselves from the events of Justice League and the rest of the DCEU, save for some faceless cameos. As a shared universe, DCEU has appeared disjointed since Snyder left and pales in comparison with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Enter Black Adam, an action-packed movie starring Dwayne Johnson in the titular role of a long-lost champion of a third-world country. Black Adam pivots the DCEU to an exciting era, laying the groundwork the franchise needs to move forward from its failings. The story builds on the mystical area of DCEU introduced in Shazam! in 2019, the paranoid government lady Amanda Waller (The Woman King’s Viola Davis) and Task Force X agent Emilia Harcourt (Peacemaker’s Jennifer Holland) from The Suicide Squad, and a certain emo boy scout benched for years.
An ancient mystically-powered champion, Black Adam reappears at the time when his home country Kahndaq is under the rule of its nth tyrants, the Intergang. The Justice Society of America - composed of Hawkman (Straight Outta Compton’s Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (James Bond films’ Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Trinkets’ Quintessa Swindell), and Atom Smasher (To All the Boys I've Loved Before’s Noah Centineo) - then tries to stop Black Adam’s violent ways of liberating its people.
The plot rings a bell and takes us to real events in history where the United States meddles in the affairs of other countries, all in the name of “global stability”. These self-proclaimed messiahs have turned a blind eye to the injustices in the foreign country with a myopic view of who the true enemy is.
On Black Adam’s side is university professor Adrianna Tomaz (Person of Interest’s Sarah Shahi). In the comics, she’s the civilian identity of the superheroine Isis, who wields a mystical amulet. Her brother, Amon aka the superhero Osiris, was rewritten as his son in the movie (Baby-Sitters Club’s Bodhi Sabongui). Shahi and Sabongui provided the grounded perspective of resistance fighters and depth to the over-the-top superhero slugfest. There is still untapped potential for these supporting characters which the movie can revisit in a sequel.
The JSA does present some valid points in controlling what the world perceives as a loose cannon. However, Hawkman’s characterization feels like a cardboard cutout. There’s no explanation given why he is adamant about trespassing on someone’s country.
Atom Smasher’s rookie and naive personality mirror Centineo’s lack of comic book knowledge seen in interviews. (He’s still charming though.) Brosnan as Doctor Fate is one of the perfect castings DCEU has done. He carries the finesse and composure expected from an experienced sorcerer. Swindell’s Cyclone is a feast on the eyes, especially when she uses her wind powers. A hint of her origin is heartbreaking.
Going back to Johnson - Black Adam is arguably his best movie. Mind you, I have seen a lot of his movies since Scorpion King and frankly, the succeeding ones tend to be forgettable and generic. Johnson’s Black Adam makes the Shazam! character more relatable. Teth-Adam’s message about tyranny and oppression still resonates today.
The movie however tends to be formulaic. A team-up ensues as a common foe resurges. Despite this, the twists in the protagonist’s backstory as well as the mystery of which JSA member Doctor Fate saw inevitably dying will keep you on the edge of your seats.
The brutal action and fight choreography go beyond the Rock’s signature people’s elbow and rock-bottom finishers. I’m curious to see the director’s cut for Black Adam, knowing that it dodged an R-rating for its violent death scenes.
But while it is predictable, viewers will realize what the Rock was really cooking. Black Adam is designed to resurrect the fans’ faith in DC movies. Johnson, who also served as a producer for the movie, understands what the fans want and he knows how to make the DCEU sandbox more exciting to play on.
Black Adam is now showing in Philippine cinemas.