Film review: Black Adam (2022), directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
tl;dr: A film that gets lost in its own mythology and Hulk smashes through everything.
In a very long info dump at the beginning of the film, we find out about an ancient king (Marwan Kenzari) who wants to find a rare, magic mineral in order to forge himself a crown to give himself great powers, and how he is eventually defeated by a champion of the people, Teth Adam (Dwayne Johnson), who was created in much the same way as Shazam – same wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and everything. But, of course, Teth Adam was too powerful for his own (well, everyone else’s) good and had to be neutralised.
Modern day Kahndaq, a country we can suppose is somewhere in the Middle East, an archaeological expedition is looking for that very same Crown of Sabbac. Problem is so is the current invading power ruling the country, Intergang. Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) grabs the crown and, in desperation when they’re under attack, reads out an inscription on the floor, releasing Teth Adam from his ancient, magical prison.
Adrianna and her brother Karim (Mohammed Amer) manage to escape the ensuing carnage, while Teth Adam single-handedly obliterates the attackers. He is a legendary hero, and he has been set free so he can help free Khandaq from its invaders. At least that’s what they and Adrianna’s son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) want him to do.
Teth Adam, having been in a magical slumber for the past 4600-odd years, has other plans – cue the Justice Society sending out a team to neutralise this new threat to regional stability: Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Dr Fate (Pierce Brosnan), along with rookies Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), because nothing says best way to take down a demigod is to send people who are on their very first mission.
If you’ve heard that Black Shazam isn’t a great film, it’s because it isn’t. It has all the wanton destruction of property of Batman vs Superman, except instead of smashing up a city they’re smashing up ancient monuments and what would probably classify as World Heritage Sites. The film tries to make us laugh like Shazam, but it doesn’t have the genre awareness, charm and self-referential humour to pull it off. Johnson is plenty charming, don’t get me wrong, but the character he’s playing isn’t.
The superheroes that get sent to take him down feel like they’re mostly just there to provide a tiny bit of conflict, but they’re never really explained or have enough time spent getting to know them so I really don’t know why I’m supposed to care about them. It seems to be some kind of running joke that Ant-Man – sorry, Atom Smasher – eats in the background but that’s never really explained. (The actor is strangely reminiscent of a younger version of Mark Ruffalo, which isn’t a bad thing.) I like the colour swirl of Cyclone’s powers. The other two are the experienced superheroes, but despite his military background, Falcon doesn’t seem very strategic and Dr Strange … is very Dr Strange. #SorryNotSorry
Black Adam from the Shazam! comics is a villain, if I’ve understood things correctly, he’s like the anti-Shazam. Instead of going down the villain route here, he’s made to be a sort of antihero instead. One that doesn’t seem to know what doors are, because Hulk smash, and it all ends up feeling a bit confused. He says he’s not a hero, but is portrayed as a kind of misunderstood hero that we’re meant to root for.
The freeing Khandaq from its oppressors theme is great, but because Teth/Black Adam has to fight them and the Justice Society it kind of gets lost. I loved seeing Sarah Shahi (we binged the entirety of Person of Interest back in June but I forgot to post about it when I planned to), and I’m always sympathetic to a “free my country from its invaders” narratives, but … I dunno, I just didn’t feel like it worked. There was a lot of symbolic posing with hand gestures for morale, but that’s about it.
Characters seemed forgotten about. Adrianna was there because she took the crown and freed Teth Adam, Amon was mostly there to badger a superhero into helping and as something for Adrianna to worry about, and Karim? He … drove a van? We could have been made to care about him, but he seemed to lack a narrative function.
There was a lot of smashing up stuff, smashing into buildings, big explosions, making buildings structurally unsafe by refusing to use doors for no reason (Teth Adam even admits at one point that yes, they did indeed have doors back in his day), and slow motion fighting, but the plot felt more incidental. Like a plot in a porn film is only there to provide a loose explanation for events, the plot in this felt like it was just there to provide a loose explanation for why helicopters crash into each other, ancient monuments turned into rubble, and so on, while the Crown of Sabbac is only there as an obvious MacGuffin.
This film could have been great fun, if it had been focused on plot more than destruction of property with an occasional “help us, Obi-Wan, you’re our only hope”. Now it’s a poorly held together mishmash of special effects with an epilogue we were more focused on whether Henry Cavill was entirely CGI, because his mouth wasn’t moving naturally, than on what he was actually saying.
3 out of 5 backpacks.