Quick synopsis: What if Superman was Middle Eastern, and kind of a dick?
I’ll admit, I’m not that familiar with the Black Adam character, but I get that he’s a big deal, especially to black comic book fans. That appeal is why The Rock has been trying to do this film since 2007, so my ignorance is on me. The film actually does a good job of explaining who he is, so even newcomers won’t be lost. You can go into this having not seen any other DC films and get the plot, and the main character (and as good as Black Panther is, this is one element where this film wins. Spoilers for that review btw). The other characters? Yeah, you’re gonna have problems. There are some you can work out from context clues what their powers are, but it definitely needs to do a better job, there’s one character in particular who is severely underwritten to the point where I’m still not entirely sure what they were. So, after The Rock spent so long getting this made, is it actually worth it?
Kind of. It’s one of the stronger DC films, behind only The Suicide Squad, Shazam!, and Wonder Woman, but that says more about how disappointing (or in the case of Wonder Woman 1984; outright terrible) the rest have been. The worst thing you can say about this is that it’s kind of bland. I know this is a passion project, but that doesn’t seem to come through in the script. The whole thing feels like a tribute to better movies. It’s not really bringing much that’s new to the table. I think it’s supposed to be “morally complex anti-hero”, but that’s not new, that’s most heroes in modern films. At this point it would be more notable if a hero was actually pure light and good (that’s part of what made Shazam stand out to me so much). I mean, in this movie universe, Superman has killed someone, and attempted to fight the rest of the Justice League, you’d have to be very dark to beat that, and this film doesn’t want to go there. It may not fully “go” there, but it does approach it at times. The Suicide Squad was shockingly violent, and so is this, but in a different way. There’s not really a lot of blood and gore, but the violence is impactful enough that it feels like physical fights actually have consequences.
On the downside, the villain is incredibly underwritten. He doesn’t actually matter for 90% of the film. He never really feels like a threat, either, meaning the whole thing doesn’t have much jeopardy. The human characters are well-written though, but that’s not quite enough to make up for the lack of stakes the whole thing seems to have. The plot is quite basic, although it does have a reveal which came as a genuine surprise to me, and makes you re-evaluate everything that came before it (like a good reveal should).
All the performances are good, not really many “wow, I am really impressed by that”, but none that draw you out of the film either. The only note I have on performances is that I watched Brooklyn 99 the day before, and a lot of The Rocks delivery in this is very reminiscent of Captain Holt, and now I can’t stop thinking about Captain Holt in different superhero films, not the actor, the character, replacing others. Everytime I think of a new one it makes me laugh, seriously, Captain Holt being Thanos would be incredible, admit it. Annoyingly, that may be the best thing I got from this movie. Which is a shame, as it’s important, and could be better. If I hadn’t seen a superhero film before, I would be impressed. But this being released during a potential aftermath of a superhero boom, can’t help but feel a little dated. It does bode well for the future of the DCEU though, which is a good sign.