‘Black Adam’ review: Amusing, despite a lackluster Dwayne Johnson

The new DC Extended Universe entry ‘Black Adam’, starring Dwayne Johnson, has been touted as a ‘new phase’ and ‘change in hierarchy’ for the struggling comic book franchise, but that’s not to say. not to say that there hasn’t also been cause for concern. The trailers looked heavy and gray, and although the film was directed by Liam Neeson’s many animated actors maker Jaume Collet-Serra, his previous outing with Johnson, “Jungle Cruise,” left his signature verve behind. him. But, it looks like Collet-Serra got his groove back for “Black Adam,” or maybe he was saving it for this movie, which is far more entertaining than it has any right to be.

It helps that ‘Black Adam’ has a distinct and dynamic visual style and tone that stands apart from the Marvel ‘house style’ we’ve grown accustomed to over so many, many phases of superhero movies, which have blossomed into a depressing digital mud lag. by an onslaught of cutesy and ironic dialogues. In “Black Adam,” the setting is a bustling Middle Eastern city, the cinematography and digital effects crisp and saturated, the action brutal and deadly enough to test that PG-13 rating, and the banter judiciously dosed.

Johnson plays a former champion of the Kingdom of Kahndaq, who received his powers from the Wizarding Council (you may remember him from the DCEU movie “Shazam”). Kahndaq is now a modern metropolis, overrun by a criminal organization known as Intergang. Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), searching for a cursed “eternium” crown, awakens Teth-Adam (Johnson) from a 5,000-year slumber while on the run from an Intergang faction. The almighty champion is basically a “Dark Superman” – he flies, he has super strength, lightning bolts shoot from his hands, etc. After a violent confrontation in the desert, this supercharged Encino Man becomes the protector of Adrianna and her brave son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui, who steals the whole movie).

But in this universe, there have to be checks and balances on all-powerful beings, so the Justice Society is called upon to rein in Teth-Adam (and also introduce new characters for the spin-off movies). Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) rush to “promote stability” in the world and do battle with Teth-Adam on the streets of Kahndaq. They eventually decide to team up to take on Intergang, who have occupied the land for 27 years, mining eternium and seeking the cursed crown so that their leader, Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari), can ascend the throne as the demon king of the land. ‘hell. .

Dwayne Johnson, left, and Aldis Hodge in ‘Black Adam’.

(Photos by Warner Bros.)

Screenwriters Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani have to master a lot of explanatory stories, character intros and various gibberish, so they get into the habit of repeating the beats over and over: Teth-Adam lost his son in the process of gaining his power, he has 5,000 years of trauma, he is not a hero, but his damage makes him powerful. There is also a refreshing anti-colonialist bent to the story of Kahndaq overthrowing its occupiers, embodied by the rebel Amon.

While massive global star Johnson is clearly the box office draw, dramatic roles aren’t his forte, and that’s especially clear here as he delivers a dark, brooding dramatic performance that lacks his natural charisma. Surprisingly, he is the weak link. Collet-Serra surrounds Johnson with a charm offensive of supporting actors, including Hodge and Brosnan, who are great, plus Shahi, Sabongui and comedian Mohammed Amer as Adrianna’s brother Karim. The director does a heroic job of crafting a movie around Johnson that’s fast-paced and entertaining, throwing needle drops and skateboard stunts and movie references and zombies and funny uncles and fire demons into the mix just to distract us somewhat from the void that is Black Adam himself.

The whole proposal is a bit silly, and everyone seems to be in on the joke except Johnson. While the film feels cobbled together from spare parts from other superhero movies, and is almost instantly forgettable, Collet-Serra manages to hold it all together through sheer force of will and an inherent sense of style. . If there’s one superhero to write about with “Black Adam,” it’s the director, and it’s good to see he still has lightning bolts coming out of his fingers.

Katie Walsh is a film critic at the Tribune News Service.

“Black Adam”

Note : PG-13, for sequences of strong violence, intense action and a little language

Operating time: 2 hours, 4 minutes

Playing: Starts October 21 in general release

Christy J. Olson