Black Adam is a mess. Dwayne Johnson’s decade-in-the-making debut as ancient powerhouse Teth-Adam is earnest but sloppy, a misguided attempt at an origin story that never feels as potent as it wants to be. The result is a film that feels more like the comic book movie equivalent of an inside joke than an accessible crowd-pleaser.
5,000 years ago, through a series of events outside his control, Teth-Adam became the champion of Kahndaq. He freed his people from an oppressive regime and… went to sleep. Now, in present-day Kahndaq, a search for the dangerous Crown of Sabbac leads to Adam’s awakening. Aided by the Justice Society, Adam must choose between doing good or frying people with lightning. An impossible choice for a guy who can reduce his enemies to smoldering skeletons without breaking a sweat.
Like so many live-action DC stories, Black Adam looks awful. Director Jaume Collet-Saura substitutes well-shot action for Snyder-esque slo-mo, reducing emotional beats to empty spectacle that isn’t much to look at anyway. Rather than establish its own visual identity, Black Adam sticks to the DCEU’s trademark shoddiness, becoming yet another technically fraught entry in an aimless franchise.
But as uninspired and unimpressive as so much of Black Adam is, it does get two things right: Johnson and Pierce Brosnan. Both are excellent. Next to Johnson, Brosnan’s Doctor Fate is the only character who doesn’t look hopelessly bored. The supporting cast feels lifeless, functioning as archetypes meant to populate an emotionally devoid plot rather than elevate the material. The movie’s perfunctory nature is evident in a broader sense, too. Forced dynamics, poor writing, and clunky exposition abound; nothing about the story, its ramifications, or its relationships feels fun, organic or authentic, and its overblown climax drives this insipidness home further.
Black Adam feels less like a passion project and more like mindless table-setting; its promises are more exciting than the product itself, which isn’t difficult when you’ve engineered an entire movie to build other stories rather than stand on its own. Here’s to hoping the character’s next appearance is more memorable.