From a distance, and on the Internet, I feel comfortable saying The Rock is not a good actor. Oh, he’s a helluva movie star and arguably a cautionary tale about body dysmorphia. But what he isn’t is capable of nuance or range. This would be why he speaks modern Americanized English as a Middle Eastern superhero who just woke up from a 5,000-year nap. Nobody wanted to hear him attempt that accent, and nobody wanted to ask him to try.
The Rock’s IRL tough guy persona is his best performance. My dude, you have a comedy show about your childhood that is entering its third season. It’s on network TV. Maybe you preserve an air of danger if you go HBO, but “Young Rock” is on NBC. It airs between an episode of “The Voice” and another episode of “The Voice.” You’re an image-obsessed walking promo who happens to be the size of a literal billboard. You’re basically assembled out of parts from a PR firm’s daydream. You dropped a rap verse so corny it somehow made MC Hammer an honorary member of the Wu Tang Clan. You are Maui from “Moana,” no matter how much you want to be “Black Adam.”
This preamble is necessary because The Rock has stressed that “Black Adam” only exists because he willed it into being after years stuck in development hell. He was able to do this because folks within spitting distance of being billionaires get to do whatever makes them feel better about their impending mortality while the rest of the world burns. Tech bros want to French kiss the troposphere, and Dwayne wants to see himself as a vigilante superhero with Godlike powers. So now I have to review “Black Adam,” which is two hours of noise and lights vaguely in the shape of a movie.
Early on, it is obvious that nobody involved gave an itty-bitty shitty about this chaos making any sense. Knowing that origin stories are boring, “Black Adam” tries to fast forward through the explanation of what the hell is going on here. Many millennia ago, bad men in a fake Mideastern nation called Kahndaq made their people slaves and forced them to dig for a powerful ore called Eternium, a name almost as funny as Unobtanium. One slave resisted and was granted magic by Gods, becoming Black Adam. Later, those Gods put him into super-duper timeout for shockingly creative (JK) reasons that are revealed later.
In the present day, freedom fighters in Kahndaq who are rebelling against nondescript colonizers from no specific nation wake him up. Oh, and they find a crown that summons demons or something? Anyway, there’s a whole-ass superhero team that is never explained or introduced called The Justice Society. Viola Davis tells them that they have to capture B.A. To be fair, we should all do whatever Dame Viola Davis instructs. Thus, Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) get started causing collateral damage while Black Adam searches for a captured kid or something. Maybe the devil shows up? I don’t know, man.
The Rock, who again has zero thespian abilities and relies solely on charm, plays a charmless douche. Surprisingly, this doesn’t work! He fights with good guys. He fights with bad guys. He glowers at the camera a lot. Pierce Brosnan wears magical pajamas at some point. Hawkman gets very grumpy at Atom Smasher, who is always eating as some kind of a joke or bit that never gets explained. Maybe he and Cyclone are flirting sometimes? It’s simply impossible to concentrate with the musical score basically screaming at you nonstop for 124 minutes.
This is the comic book movie that snooty lovers of cinema think all comic book movies are like. It is generic to a fault. It is visually busy but wholly bland. It is overstuffed with exposition and explanation without motivations or meaning. It is sound and fury, signifying nothing beyond Dwayne’s desire to have everybody come see how cool he looks.
Beyond the comic book nerd complaints I have about wasting the Justice Society and bungling the dynamic between “Shazam” and Black Adam, I am stunned that this is the kind of signature hypermasculine fight orgy that DC apparently still wants to keep making. Cool, y’all. Have fun with that. I was the only person in the entire theater on the night it premiered. Woof. A final note: If the most successful thing in your movie is a post-credit scene in which (no spoilers) a character says to another character “We need to talk,” you have made a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad movie.
Grade = F
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Charles Pulliam-Moore at The Verge says the movie “is a one-note spectacle for children about how cool murder is.”
Gayle Sequeira at Film Companion says “Over its runtime, however, all its talk of challenging and recontextualizing mythology rings hollow. For all its championing of freedom, the film is just the latest example of the stranglehold comic book movies have on our culture. His film may advocate the necessity of questioning myths, but The Rock can’t let go of his own.”
Princess Weekes at The Mary Sue says “Ultimately, ‘Black Adam’ is fun, fresh, and big enough to stand up even while suffering from origin-story-itis.”