Review of Dwayne Johnson’s Film Black Adam: a Failure?

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The spiky and beautiful “Black Adam,” which was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and stars Dwayne Johnson in a standout lead role, is one of the best DC superhero movies to date. This story about a gloomy, presumably evil god who reappears in a Middle Eastern country that has been under occupation for a long time and rejects the majority of the decisions that bland-ify even the best entrants in the genre.

It portrays its eponymous character—a hero who fought against a tyrant ruler thousands of years ago—during the first third of the film as a terrifying and mysterious entity with an insatiable desire for destruction. His resurrection from a desert tomb, going by the ancient name Teth-Adam, is both a miracle and a curse for the people who prayed for protection from the corporate-mercenary thugs who have been oppressing them and strip-mining their country for years.

The remainder of “Black Adam’s” running time concentrates on the inevitableness of Adam’s change into a decent man, summarising the transformation of the title character in the first two “Terminator” movies (there are even comic bits where people try to teach Adam sarcasm and the Geneva Conventions). Then, “Black Adam” adds a dash of the macho sentimentality that was once popular in classic Hollywood films about loners who needed to become involved in a cause in order to reorient their moral compass or realize their own value. But the film’s early chapters of its plot never lose their razor-sharp edge.

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At first, Adam appears to be a literal force of nature comparable to Godzilla and other monsters from Japanese kaiju movies. At first, it’s difficult for anyone who crosses Adam’s path to determine if he is good, evil, or simply apathetic to human needs. Everyone wants Adam to assist them in stopping someone in Intergang, a multinational corporate/mercenary consortium whose interests are represented by a two-faced charmer, from receiving a crown made in hell and imbued with the power of six devils (Marwan Kenzari).

Years ago, Humphrey Bogart portrayed a lot of cynical guys who pretended to have no interest in issues before changing their thoughts and taking up arms in opposition to tyranny or corruption. The plot has been revised numerous times by Johnson during his career. Most recently, he played a character in “Jungle Cruise” which was based on Bogart’s riverboat captain in “The African Queen.” Infusing the whole with his own distinct charm, he draws inspiration from classic primal performances by Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as poet-brute performances like Anthony Quinn’s strongman in “La Strada.”

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He has studied the classics, as evidenced by “Black Adam,” and has selected passages that seem to fit his needs. Even the sweeter moments of remorse and guilt seem to be influenced by 1950s morality plays like “On the Waterfront.”

The latter are typically brought on by three “civilian” people who appeal to Adam’s supposedly inherent (albeit hidden) benevolence. One of them is Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), a professor at a university, a member of the resistance, and the widow of a resistance hero who was assassinated by the colonists.

A different one is Adrianna’s jovial and unflappable son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), who zooms through the bombed-out city on a skateboard that appears to have as many additional uses as a Swiss Army Knife. Finally, Adrianna’s brother Amir (comedian Mohammed Amer), who brings life to the stereotypical earthy everyman role, is present.

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However, the screenplay by Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani manages to fend off the urge to indulge in unwarranted sentiment. Despite proof, the film does not claim that Adam or the superheroes he is up against (Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman, Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher, Quintessa Swindell’s wind-controlling Cyclone, and Pierce Brosnan’s dimension-hopping and clairvoyant Dr. Fate) are good people with sincere intentions. There is no absolute right or wrong in discussions of motives and strategies. The film’s edge comes from its desire to linger as long as it can in morally ambiguous territory.

Additionally, it derives from violence, which is depicted as an unavoidable outcome of the individuals’ motivations, obligations, and personalities rather than being linked to any particular morality or ideology. As “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Gremlins” did with the PG rating over 40 years earlier, this framing, together with the bloody scenes and visuals of people being shot, impaled, and crushed, pushes the film’s PG-13 rating to its breaking point. At the “Black Adam” screening this writer went to, there were a few walkouts, and in each instance, a parent with a child under 10 was responsible.

To be fair, they might not have anticipated the movie’s opening flashback, which culminates in a slave at a construction site being stabbed in the gut and thrown off a cliff, a boy being threatened with beheading, or the title character destroying an army with electrical bolts and his bare hands shortly after his first appearance.

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It ties into recurring scenes and dialogue about what it means for a small country to be invaded and occupied by outsiders who set their own rules and are unconcerned with daily life on the ground. Nearly every other scene—including expository dialogue exchanges—is set against the backdrop of a chaotic city whose residents have been hardened not just by the occupation, but by the catastrophes that are unleashed whenever super-beings clash.

Film historians might notice that the idea was created by the Warner Bros. branch of New Line. It first gained popularity with horror movies, then expanded by putting out auteur-driven, gritty genre works and dramas (such as “Menace II Society” and “Deep Cover”), before breaking into blockbusters with the first three “Lord of the Rings” films.

This movie, which is PG-13 in actuality but R in spirit, has many situations and sequences where you can see its heritage mirrored. By incorporating lyrics from “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones and musical and visual snippets from “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly,” “Black Adam” immediately makes it clear what kind of movie it is. These are significant works from artists whose best work invites you to root for characters who move through their worlds like threshers.

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