DCEU has been in shamble for years. A run that has been accented by brief flutterings of hope. We could call this an opinion, which, technically, it is. But there is enough instances to prove otherwise. Like each count of accusations levied at The Flash actor Ezra Miller who could be spending 30 years in prison for his bizarre crimes – the DCEU is rotting from the inside out.
Then steps in the greatest blockbuster name and personality with his Seven Bucks imprint – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The painfully likeable personality that checks all the right boxes. Stacked with the physique of carved marble, this would mark the actors foray into the comic book movie space.
And he could not have done it at a better time. With Warner Discovery making sweeping, blunt changes to focus on ‘quality’ over quantity, Dwayne Johnson had a unique opportunity to forward a plan that he failed to achieve with the Fast & Furious franchise – to be the nexus and integral pivot point that would spur on an entire universe and fleet of films, shows and spin-offs. And Black Adam was perfect. A DC Comics’ IP-rich franchise that was established enough to make an impact, but removed enough to be fertile ground for future projects that seemingly mirrored Warner’s new approach.
And this may be seen as a pro point, but it equally is a stumbling block. The lead-up to Black Adam had The Rock as harbinger spouting at every opportunity that a new era of DCEU was coming. An upheaval that would herald the shift of power from Superman – and, by extension, Zack Snyder’s flurry of highly-stylised but story-bereft movies. With such a claim, you have to deliver. I mean really deliver.
So how does Black Adam fair? Can lightning be bottled? Or is Christopher Nolan’s Batman arguably the first and only lightning strike at WB and the only hero we will respect in black?
⚠ SPOILERS AHEAD ⚠
DC’s mythical city of Khandaq stands before the time of Egyptians and Babylonians and is the home of Teth-Adam. Which already is funny because how can Black Adam be endowed with the powers of Egyptian gods before the time of Egyptians? Another fun car fact about Khandaq: it is home to the unique mineral called Eternium. Eternium is endowed with magical properties. Valuable stuff. So valuable, that a man that wishes to be king seizes power and enslaves all his own people – including Teth-Adam and his son – to mine the mineral. And the purpose? To get just enough to make a crown that will grant him the power as a conduit of the most powerful demons in hell. Naturally.
A young boy, after witnessing the death of a fellow slave rises up and unconvincingly (from a movie-goers perspective) rallies up insurrectionist sentiments in all his fellow slaves. And before he could be touched by the executioners blade, he is whisked away to the Rock of Eternity – the home to the wizards that transform him to Shazam! Bestowed with this new power, the young boy becomes the Champion of Khandaq – It is later ‘revealed’ (albeit not that much a reveal if you have two eyes and a brain) that the Champion was Teth-Adam’s son, not Teth-Adam himself. The Champion’s mother and father were attached by the threatened slaver king, and the son transferred his power to Teth-Adam, quite easily might I add, endowing him with the power of Shazam!, healing him in the process. However, the son, now vulnerable to the arrows of assassins gets struck down, beginning Teth-Adam’s rampage of lightning and blood. Black Adam is born.
Five-thousand years later, modern day Khandaq looks like how Hollywood sees any exotic place that remotely sounds like Iraq. Military-occupied, everywhere is a market place and historic monuments are only a little more dilapidated than other ‘modern’ built structures. And within the history hidden away, the country hold’s with it the faded stories of a Champion under the shadow of an eye-sore of a statue. With it, the legend of the demon-bluetooth crown made from
Vibranium pure, dense Eternium.
And whilst military forces look to find this crown and apprehend Adrianna Tomaz, a researcher who is desperate to find the crown as well to preserve what is left of Khandaq’s artefacts and heritage. In spite of Tomaz’s knack for knowing enough to translate archaic wall inscriptions, she fails to take heed of multiple warnings written all over the cave that imprisoned both the Eternium crown and Black Adam for the dangers they impose on humanity. In one place. Convenient. For as Adrianna gets the crown, her research team gets descended upon by militia. She then reads an incantation that releases Black Adam from his supernatural prison. Just there, carved in the floor. No secret coded language other that being archaic.
Now the Champion of Khandaq has returned from his 5000-year slumber, and old fights get rekindled as the descendant of the Slave King looks to do what his ancestor failed to. All the while Black Adam battles with the Justice Society that desperately try to contain the destruction wrought by the awakened god.
Black Adam’s entry into the DC is brutal. No one was above death. Which makes what I have left to say that much more harder.
Killing the DCEU
It really does not have to be said. No one probably has been more critical of the DCEU than me. Be it Zack Snyder’s approach being flash with little substance, crafting moments strung together by web-thin weak plots and character development, all the while resting on the backbone and shoulders of decades-long IP crafted by comic book artists, writers, animation and movies that actually worked. However, none of that justified the mess that we see a few scenes in Black Adam.
You already know what scene I am referring to if you have seen the movie. A room, filled with DC Comics memorabilia, becomes the backdrop of a close-quarters knuckle brawl between Black Adam and Hawkman. And every punch that ‘missed’ went to destroying the DC Legends – Superman receiving the bulk of the defamation. Which would all be fun and games if The Rock did not spend his whole press run claiming he was the new powerhouse in town. Now there is levels to this. The obvious, surface-level one being Black Adam is the anti-hero that cares not for any alien or metahuman and fancy pants in a suit. However, other scenes that went the route of Black Adam’s desecration of DC Comics foundation – The Flash, Wonder Woman, Batman… is Black Adam’s way of reinforcing The Rock’s claim and desire to shift the current DCEU into his personal playground. Which in all honesty we are all for. But, if such a claim and stamp is to be made, this is not the way to do it. Ritualistically killing Superman won’t make Black Adam great. Story, above all else. Character development, above all else. And sadly, this was not the focus of this movie.
For such an anti-hero, Black Adam resurgence after a 5,000 year forced hiatus felt like a reimagining of Aladdin rubbing a lamp and now he was a genie at the whim of a researcher and her annoying son. And can we talk about the idea that he speaks fluent English despite it being before his time period.
In any case, it was all in the tasteless/annoying arena. Like Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern jokes. It was funny the first/second time. Then it just became stale. Move on.
Black (Adam) Carbon Copy
Dwayne Johnson has been quoted as such. Not wanting to take a bite out of Marvel’s ‘apple’. He wants a whole new apple. Which I guess worked in the sense that the Doctor was kept away at the end of the film (I said spoilers). However, after sitting through the entire movie, I could not help but notice all the rat nibbles in a very oxidised Marvel apple core.
Atom Smasher received criticism earlier for his suit looking like Deadpool. And whilst I did agree, I wasn’t super critical. Fan-overaction. However, on screen, his mannerisms of Atom Smasher, the quirky, aloofness that Ryan Reynold’s brought to the Merc in the 20th Century Fox/Marvel movie was painfully replicated here. And it was obvious. Not that it was done badly. But I should not be thinking of marvel whilst watching a DC movie. But Deadpool qualities only appeared in mask, which made it worst. Like two different characters. I know masks tend to lower inhibitions, but don’t let those inhibitions be performing like Wade Wilson. You just knew this was part of an info pack/scene breakdown/test audience/focus group/algorithm-driven inclusion.
And we can not ignore the forced slow-motion scenes that desperately sought (and failed) to produce the magic of Quicksilver in the X-Men franchise. Twice. A whole lot of Marvel in a movie that looks to step away from what Marvel and Marvel Legacy movies have done.
Succinctly, one can’t help but appreciate the irony of Pierce Brosnan mentioning his inspiration for playing Dr. Fate was Benedict Cumberbatch and his iteration of Doctor Strange, as it was DC Comics’ Dr. Fate that inspired the very creation of Doctor Strange over at Marvel Comics.
It seems DC has gone from Distinguished Competitors to Duplicating Copiers
And speaking of Fate…
Seeing the celestial, supernatural tactics of Pierce Brosnan’s Doctor Fate reignited my love for the hero that made both the comics and the animated JL series so prolific. The struggle between the Helmet and its possessing the wearer to be a defender of realms was a thing the Black Adam showed well, if not briefly. Through visions of apocalyptic possible futures attained merely by touching it. Conjuring multiple selves to do battle, the ankh of glass and light that anchored and tore painfully through Black Adam…. it was a joy to watch.
His battle for his own autonomy however does not make it’s way fully into the narrative and his character; the Fate I’ve fallen in love with is the one where his helmet sees the man – Kent Nelson – as nothing more than a vessel to be used to its own end, and every time he puts on the helmet could be the last time he could take it off. Not death. But eternal forced servitude.
However in the movie Kent Nelson carries it around (which I believe is more for reasons concerning face screen time than over the character’s fear of donning the helmet). Nevertheless, Dr. Fate first outing in the DC movie realm felt adequate to spur calls for a solo movie. Dwayne Johnson promises more of Fate, but in all honesty, Dwayne’s level of celebrity makes him a people pleaser, so he’s bound to agree with anything that is algorithmically favourable.
Downside? The spiritual Iron Man HUD. Jesus. Weird. Lose it. Dr. Fate helmeted is no longer Kent. Only a machine controlled by the supernatural force of the helmet. Showing his face in the helmet this way gives the wrong impression that he is in full control, when he is, as Cyclone says, ‘possessed’.
Group dynamics. It will be the bane of many a superhero movie. However, it is out of the struggle of the individual parts can the whole be more satisfying when they get together in mind and body. Especially with a newly formed team comprised of elder statesmen and a younger generation. However, the Justice Society are a few straws short of this.
The thing is, they should not be. All the key elements to push character were there. Hawkman, an authority that found a quarry that rubbed him the wrong way… because Black Adam arguably mirrored the same headstrong callousness that made him a threat. Atom Smasher that tried to live up to ghost of his past in the form of his Grandfather’s superhero lineage. Cyclone who’s genius… I honestly can’t remember… Nanobots! Cruel experimentation. Something or the other. Because she was the one that suffered the most come character development. Black Adam was the Justice Society’s only challenge. Otherwise, for the most part, they made no impact and receed into near-background props on screen. A true disservice.
DC is in desperate need for direction. At this point, they may as well unvault Batgirl and throw it at us. Because we’ll take about anything. DC has the most potential than it ever had, but Black Adam could not catch the lightning in the bottle. Hey, I was hopeful too. I saw the same trailers you did. But at its core, it does nothing to create an engrossing story that draws you into the dynamic DCEU shift that everyone has been promising. The status quo is not challenged in the slightest. In fact, quite the opposite. It is using what is done to prop up what could be. So you really can’t ask for a shift in power at the DCEU, from a business or on-screen perspective, if your secret, not-so-secret post credit scenes is Henry Cavill’s Superman. Or using Viola Davis’ Waller. Or anything that refers to the old guard. Even as an origin story, Black Adam falls off the screen. Left overs from his son. Ew. This isn’t uneaten banana slices your child didnt mush in his face or throw on the ground.
If this is DC’s idea of focusing on quality, they need to revisit their choices. The Rock super-stardom power wasn’t enough to save this movie sadly. It has its moments, as all DC movies have had. But that anchor, that essence that makes a story truly resonate with audience, is a Moby Dick that remains illusive.
This is not a DC or even a WB problem specifically. It is a Hollywood problem. And the fact this film was 15 years in the making, I am keen to know just how much time was spent on the script. Nevertheless, this is what we have. If Black Adam was a simple entry into the slew of generic comic book movies then it would be something to gloss over. However its claim of DCEU upheaval is false. Quite the opposite, actually.
And even though the Rock is known for what he is cooking, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Destroying DCEU’s Superman but standing on Cavill’s shoulders for that good ol’ propaganda ‘transfer’ of good qualities. Much of the characters fall back into near insignificance on screen, and Black Adam misses its mark.
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