Reel Thoughts: ‘Black Adam’ is an entertaining but rocky start for Dwayne Johnson’s venture into the superhero world


Illustration by Eliana Storkamp

“Black Adam,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, premiered Friday.

Andrés Buenahora, Reporter

This article contains spoilers.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as D.C.’s Teth Adam in Warner Brothers’ newest film, “Black Adam,” which premiered Friday.

Weighed down in its first scenes with heavy exposition, “Black Adam” finds its footing when Johnson gets the opportunity to explore new terrain as a superhero in a promising premise layered with anti-imperialist sentiments. 

The film is set in Kahndaq, a fictional country in the Middle East where a military group known as the Intergang has overtaken the nation and stripped the people of their culture, sovereignty and rights. After being put under an ancient slumber for seeking vengeance, Teth Adam emerges from a magical tomb. He’s an antihero, but the kind of character his home country of Kahndaq needs. 

Once awoken from his prison after 5,000 years, Teth is apprehended by The Justice Society of America, a team comprised of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). 

Teth has a somber demeanor, having gone from a slave to an invincible figure with Shazam-esque powers and a unique sense of justice. Johnson plays Teth as an emotionless brute, with a “punch-first, think after his enemies have already been killed” approach. 

He’s not portrayed as a hero or a villain, but a God-like force with no remorse for murder. In contrast to Hawkman, who insists that heroes don’t kill, Teth’s legend is born out of a penchant for vengeance. 

Sarah Shahi plays Isis, a mother who is perhaps the only person actually capable of getting through to Teth. By questioning the moral implications of The Justice Society, she alludes to the fact that these heroes don’t hesitate to pursue Teth upon his return. Yet for all of their world-saving heroics, they’ve never prioritized the well-being and freedom of the Kahndaq people.  

The film’s message brims with colonial undertones, but it’s never fully developed. Neither is the dynamic of the four heroes teaming up. There’s a vexing and inconsistent mix of D.C. characters many viewers don’t know. By not detailing their pre-existing relationships or flaws, “Black Adam” risks audiences who aren’t invested in these characters.

The inter-hero conflict that Marvel is known for is never broached here beyond Hawkman scolding Atom Smasher for his naivety with a funny line or two. The Justice Society arc reads like a cookie-cutter Marvel recipe, only without the proper concision, set-up and character development. 

Yet amid the overdone superhero tropes, clichés and messily-constructed story structure of “Black Adam,” there is still plenty to love. 

Each hero in the film is exciting: Hawkman is a golden-winged warrior with a spiked mace; Dr. Fate possesses a helmet that is almost a character in itself, flashing similarities to Doctor Strange’s mythical madness; Atom Smasher is a younger Ant-Man and Cyclone is a nano-tech-injected genius with hurricane-like powers. 

This leads to fun, engaging fight scenes that are inventive, spirited and enhanced by the physique and strength of Johnson. He carries several instances of dialogue that wouldn’t work if spoken by anyone other than him. 

In “Black Adam” lies a levity that balances Teth’s violence with comedic exchanges between him and more grounded, traditional superheroes like Hawkman. 

Part of the appeal of this superhero flick is slapstick humor. With Johnson’s usual charm compressed into a creature with the emotional range of an actual rock, Cetineo offers a much needed tonal change to the film. He’s just unassuming and fun enough as Atom Smasher, complementing Swindell’s Cyclone with ease. 

“Black Adam” is a rocky, poorly-designed film that pales in comparison to the usual Marvel mold for which this genre tends to exhibit a propensity. Yet, its action-packed sequences and framing of Johnson in a new role make this film entertaining. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @andresbuena01

Related Stories:

Reel Thoughts: Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry transform ‘Causeway’ into a riveting narrative of trauma and trust

— Reel Thoughts: Matt Reeves’ ‘The Batman’ finds success as dark detective story

Reel Thoughts: ‘Morbius’ is a mess, but an entertaining mess at that