Review by Tim Robins
There are heroes, there are villains, and there is Black Adam…
I think Black Adam would be better played as a game than watched as a film. There are plenty of characters, lots of boss fights, objects to buff you up and when your character dies, you get to be reborn, without having to play the level again.
To be frank, I found Black Adam a grind. I fully expected the movie to climax in a Marvel-style CGI fight. What I didn’t expect was that there would be a climax and fight every fifteen minutes. Not even halfway through the movie, my interest was spent.
For those unfamiliar, Black Adam was a golden age Captain Marvel villain debuting in Marvel Family #1, for which there’s a nice Facsimile Edition out now at your local comic shop. Beyond that, DC has re-booted their universe so often that I’ve suffered a crisis in caring-less what any of its characters’ back stories are now. Apparently, Black Adam has been given his own movie as a spin off from Shazam, as part of the DC Extended Universe and as a potential reboot arising from the shadow of the Snyderverse. Despite fearing the worst, I honestly hoped DC could develop a Shazamaverse as an alternative but, sad to say, Black Adam isn’t the film I was looking for.
The plot plays like outtakes from a scrapped Suicide Squad sequel, one without James Gunn’s ribald humour. The setting is Kahndaq, some generic, vaguely Middle Eastern country beset by high tech mercenaries, Intergang (grabbed from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics).
A small group of rebel tomb raiders come across an evil, 5000-year-old floating crown of Sabac belonging to an ancient, tyrannical ruler of Kahndaq and capable of summoning five evil demons. Unfortunately, the rogue archaeologists have a traitor in their midst and the team are soon surrounded by murderous Intergang forces, Fortunately, one of the resistance awakens Black Adam, who starts pulling the limbs off gang members’ limbs and taking the fight outdoors.
When Black Adam starts battling Intergang in the streets of Kahndaq, the Justice Society (yay!) are dispatched to do something about the situation. Owing allegiance to no country, this group of, let’s be blunt, uber-fascists, are up for whatever assignment their call centre sends them on. (I love the Justice Society, but not this Justice Society). After that, it’s fighting and flashbacks all the way.
None of the film’s problems are to do with the cast who ‘save’ Black Adam and stopped me from rage-quitting the cinema altogether. Dwayne (The Rock of Eternity) Johnson has a similar kind of charisma that Schwarzenegger has, and this just about makes him failure proof, although it is not for the screenwriters trying. Here, his character is given an interesting character arc with Black Adam searching his 5000 year his past and reflecting on his present actions to work out just what kind of superhero or villain he is. There’s a nice moment, for instance, where he spots a pile of comics scattered in an alley and, for a moment, I thought he was going to learn how to be a hero by reading them. Sadly, it didn’t happen, because the comics have been left by a kidnapped boy so there’s more fighting to be done.
The boy is Amon Tomaz, one third of a family of resistance fighters. Amonis played by the cute-as-a-button Bodhi Sabongui, who manages the role with aplomb. Unfortunately, that role just seems to be a Billy Bateson of colour. In a decision that I found utterly confusing, Amon is introduced with all the trapping of Billy – hoody, skateboard and all. I felt someone was hammering me over the head with an analogy but, given the speed in which events unfolded, I just felt like I had been smacked about the head with a skateboard.
Amon’s home life was another point of engagement. Sarah Shahi as his mum, professor and archaeologist Adrianna Tomaz is personable and her brother, Karim, played by Mohammed Amir, acquits his role as comedy fat man with as much dignity as he can muster. I particularly enjoyed the family’s flat, which is tricked out with all sorts of concealments and secret passageways.
Then there are the members of the Justice Society who are meh, even if one of them is Pierce Brosnan as one of my favourite characters, Doctor Fate. Brosnan has matured into something of a silver-fox. Behind-the-scenes information tells me that he played the role in a mocap suit. No kidding. Brosnan may wear his age well, but Fate sports one of the most awful CGI costumes and capes that I have ever seen.
The rest of the Justice Society are fine. There are brief scenes between the members that are meant to pass as character building. Atom Smasher is supposed comic relief but I didn’t find his stumbling about, crashing into ancient buildings, remotely funny – although I suppose they could be read as a metaphor for the West’s dealings with the Middle East.
Quintessa Swindell plays Cyclone, accompanied by fun, psychedelic, whirlwind effects. Apparently she is a descendant of Red Tornado, an android (don’t even think about it). But it is Aldis Hodge who carries the superhero charisma crown as Hawkman – even though his wings are almost as dodgy as Fate’s cape. The Justice Society find themselves pitted against Black Adam and a descendant of the tyrannical Anh-Kot. I mention the latter because the film has a villain and he is it.
What does for Black Adam is the over-processed post production cinematography, the by-the-numbers scenes and dialogue and a dreary introduction that fills the audience with information that could have been dealt with in dialogue. And watching a landscape of CGI slaves hard at work brought unwelcome associations with the exploited workers in CGI mills wearing their fingers to the bone creating an analogue for their own wage-enslavement.
There’s just no suspense in a story, that is so predictable that I accurately guessed what I was going to miss when I went out for a cup of coffee. I spotted the name Emmerich as producer but it was Toby Emmerich, who is unrelated to Roland Emmerich but it appears their love of on-the-nose, predictable dialogue suggests that the pair were separated at birth.
Unbelievably, I’m still willing to spend time in the DC Universe because I love these characters. After a mid-end credits quest appearance by one of DC all I can say is ‘Game-on’!
Black Adam is in cinemas now across the UK
• Black Adam Official Movie Site: blackadammovie.net
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide.
His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip with Mike Collins. Since 1990 he worked at the University of Glamorgan where he was a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Media Studies and the social sciences. Academically, he has published on the animation industry in Wales and approaches to social memory. He claims to be a card carrying member of the Politically Correct, a secret cadre bent on ruling the entire world and all human thought.