Basically: The Rock plays SHAZAM’s rival, Black Adam, who switches between anti-hero and anti-villain throughout his awakening in the modern world.
The DC Comics superhero adaptations from Warner Bros. are a stressful place if you are into the DC Universe. With all the tumult in the company due to constant changes in ownership and the direction of the business, you never know what’s going on. We started out the year in a good place with Peacemaker and The Batman, then went into sadness when we lost Batgirl and a new Batman cartoon. Hope returned, thanks to The Sandman on Netflix and news of the Penguin show. All the rumors don’t help, including the current lack of direction and whatever is going on with the star of the upcoming Flash film. Yet here we are with a movie that has been talked about for the last 15 years, basically due to a cover by JG Jones for the maxi-series 52, which shows Black Adam sitting on a throne with his feet on the skulls of his enemies. Finally, The Rock has made his Black Adam film.
Now for the setup: In the fictional country of Kahndaq, five thousand years ago, a man named Teth-Adam became the champion of the wizard Shazam, but lost his status after defeating the despotic king who took over his nation. Fast-forward to modern times, Black Adam is woken up by Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) to help her fight Intergang, who is now controlling Kahndaq. Black Adam must deal with Intergang and the Justice Society of America (JSA) as he decides the future of his nation.
Based mainly on the story arc titled Black Reign from the early 2000s JSA run of the comics, this film widens the DCEU and adds in some little political ideas. Black Adam meshes those ideas together with other arcs to make a consistent story with decently realized characters and relationships.
Johnson clearly cares about this character, which comes across in his portrayal. The film version of Black Adam has a bit more of a makeover than his usual DC Universe counterparts, even with all the reboot continuity changes. His backstory is entirely sympathetic and understandable. Even though he’s called an anti-hero, he is an anti-villain too. He openly says he’s not a hero and isn’t trying to be. Still, the ways he removes the dangers and interlopers in his nation aren’t supported by the downtrodden masses of Kahndaq, who haven’t had much support globally.
There’s a lot to like about the cast. Sarah Shahi’s Adrianna is pretty much the film’s heart. As a college professor and freedom fighter, she advocates for her people and becomes the prominent voice Black Adam listens to. It’s very interesting that this film is coming out at a time when women in the Middle East are fighting for their freedom in real life. That type of spirit is here in Adrianna, even in this adaptation of a “funny book.”
Now we get to my guy Aldis Hodge as Carter Hall AKA Hawkman. Let’s be clear here: This is by far the best portrayal of Hawkman I’ve seen from Hollywood. Hodge is able to show the strength, presence, and honor of Hall, the leader of the JSA. He’s all into playing this character, his charisma pours off the screen. I hope the DCEU takes note of his performance and has Hawkman appear more along with the JSA.
Pierce Brosnan works well as Kent Nelson AKA Dr. Fate, the JSA’s senior and wisest member. He does well to create a sophisticated character who gives advice and is well-worn. Brosnan has great chemistry with Johnson and Hodge as Fate opposes their views on how to go about things. The younger members—Noah Centineo as Al Rothstein AKA Atom Smasher and Quintessa Swindell as Maxine Hunkel AKA Cyclone—don’t get much time but their dynamic is cute. Smasher is shown to have a bit of a crush on Cyclone while he’s also getting used to being in the big leagues. Cyclone/Maxine could use a bit more development but the film does drop hints that there will be more. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to see her character explored along with her grandmother, the OG Red Tornado who smacks people with pots.
The Big Bad is a classic Marvel/Shazam family villain, which is an intelligent use of a digging-in-the-long-boxes character. Adam and Kahndaq’s past ties the lot together, which is pretty good and works to keep the movie flowing. The design is great as well. I also enjoyed that this film brings something back to the Shazam corner of the DC Universe: The nature of fatherhood. This existed before Geoff Johns changed the origin and setup for Billy Batson and the Shazam family used for the 2019 film. The idea of the father being the ideal for the child, even in the way his heroic persona looks, was essentially thrown away; which I feel hurt the Shazam concept a bit. While Teth-Adam is himself, his role as a father and his failure to protect his family and people weighs heavily on him in his champion identity. It’s an overstated theme but one that is very effective and is a brilliant addition to this part of the sub-franchise in the DC theatrical universe.
In the End: Black Adam changes the power structure of the DC Universe by being a really good superhero movie that should please a wide range of fans from the diehard to the casual.