On Oct. 21, Warner Bros. Entertainment finally released a movie that has been in production for the better part of 15 years. The film, titled Black Adam, has been a passion project of star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the wrestler turned action movie icon who plays the titular character Teth-Adam. This film was first announced way back in 2007, right on the precipice of the superhero boom that has encapsulated the industry in recent memory. If it had been released back then, it might have gone the way of Sin City or Watchmen: visual masterpieces that ultimately failed to resonate with audiences. However, released at this time, this movie works so well within the scope of its genre and cultural impact.
In a word, Black Adam is powerful. In multiple interviews, Dwayne Johnson has used the following tagline: “The hierarchy of power in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) is about to change.” This statement holds extremely true throughout the entire movie. In the comics, Black Adam is a rival of the superhero Shazam!, sharing similar powers with him. The movie makes a few minor changes to his origin, which I won’t spoil here, but I will say that they lend a certain tragic element to the character that is sometimes lacking when he is portrayed as a tried-and-true villain in the comics.
The physical stature of The Rock in his suit also lends some credibility to Black Adam as a threat to others in DC Comics’ cinematic universe. On average, the actors who portray DC characters tend to be taller than their Marvel counterparts, as well as heavier. When compared to actors like Ben Affleck who stands at 6’4″ or Jason Momoa who weighs in at 240 pounds, The Rock feels more statuesque than all of his fellow DC stars, standing at a height of 6’5″ and a reported weight of 275 pounds. Every hit feels more powerful than anyone else before, and it feels like his opponents feel the damage more deeply than in other superhero fights that we have seen over the last decade and a half.
I had two minor issues with the movie. The first was the villain. Sabbac is a fine character from the comics, but just once I’d like to see a superhero origin story where the main antagonist isn’t a direct mirror of the main character. Black Adam says the word SHAZAM! and is granted powers from a pantheon of gods whose names make up the acronym of the word. Sabbac draws similar powers from a pantheon of demons to become a superpowered avatar hellbent on evil. See the similarities? This is Superman and Zod, Hulk and Abomination, Iron Man and Iron Monger, Aquaman and Ocean Master, etc, etc.
It’s an unavoidable trope that all superheroes have supervillain counterparts that are mirror images of themselves. However, the purpose of a rogues’ gallery is that it provides a diverse plethora of characters who can challenge the hero in different and unique ways. So please, DC, Marvel, Image, Valiant, Dark Horse, Archie, whichever comic book company happens to read the Daily Sun, please stop doing this in every movie. It’s stale, and we fans are tired of it.
My second minor issue with the film was its use of Hawkman. Now, it is an understatement to say that Hawkman’s comic book history is long and convoluted. And yet here he feels a little stale. There is an unfortunate trope in superhero movies wherein a character is presented as being powerful and is essentially just used as a punching bag to establish how strong other characters are by beating them. The worst offender of this is Killowag in the Green Lantern comics. He’s big, he’s burly, he’s always the first one to be knocked down when a new and powerful villain emerges. Likewise, the audience is told that Hawkman is the muscle of the Justice Society, even more so than the size-changing Atom Smasher. And yet he’s just pummeled by Black Adam. I would like to see Hawkman able to put up a little bit of a better fight against him, as well as against Sabbac, to really sell his character as worthy of the physical respect that he claims to deserve.
Ending on a positive note, I loved this movie. I’m sure you gathered this by reading the previous few paragraphs, but I am a huge comic book fan. This movie appeals to me as a fan of both the source material and the genre of superhero films themselves. Seeing the Justice Society on the big screen, not just hinted at and referenced like they are in various CW shows, was an absolute dream come true. I thought that all of the actors, especially Pierce Brosnan with “Dr. Fate,” did fantastic jobs being faithful to the comics while adding their own personal touches to the characters. For the past three years, Marvel Entertainment has not produced the kind of quality work that they were known for during their “Infinity Saga” era (2008-2019). This has allowed their rival, DC, to start to rise in the ranks of popularity at the box office. I had thought that the superhero genre was waning in its ability to tell new and inventive stories. However, movies such as Joker, The Batman and now Black Adam have allowed for DC to prove me wrong. Now, I am just as excited for the future of the industry as I was back when The Rock was first cast in Black Adam.
Tom Sandford is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].