Warning: There are mild spoilers ahead for "Black Adam," Dwayne Johnson's DC antihero movie.
The Rock and a shocking mid-credits scene are the best parts of the film.
The end offers a glimpse of hope for DC's future if they can get it together.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has been telling us for two years that "Black Adam" will change the hierarchy of the DC universe.
Based on the film we saw, it won't.
And that's a serious bummer. As much as fans may want to root for the Rock's antihero film to succeed — he's been trying to get this film made for about 15 years — it's a subpar addition to the DC universe.
The good news for Johnson is that he's great in "Black Adam." He clearly understands this character, is believable in the role, and commands the screen every second he's on it.
Unfortunately, his performance is one of the film's few highlights other than a shocking mid-credits reveal.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ("Jungle Cruise"), the film follows Teth-Adam/Black Adam, an antihero who was given powers from the Gods, the very same ones who granted powers to Zachary Levy's Shazam in DC's 2019 movie about the hero.
After a nearly 5,000-year slumber, Teth-Adam awakens when his home of Kahndaq is threatened by a legion of mercenary goons who are trying to seize a crown and unleash ancient demons. Unfortunately for Teth-Adam, seedy government figure Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides the US needs to intervene with its own league of superheroes — no, not that league, but the Justice Society of America (JSA) — to bring him down, believing he could use his power to cause more harm than good.
Largely humorless with an extremely bonkers third act, "Black Adam" feels derivative of many other superhero movies that have come before it like "X-Men" and "Captain America: Civil War." Once again, DC delivers a film where interesting characters are trapped in a mediocre and predictable superhero movie.
The Rock and Pierce Brosnan are the stand-outs in a painfully unfunny film
Every joke in "Black Adam" falls flat unless it's delivered by Johnson, whose antihero is trying to adjust to the present, or Brosnan, who gets in a few well-timed quips as Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate, a sorcerer who can see into the future. His character's level-headedness, patience, and sarcasm play perfectly opposite Johnson. If anyone was up for a potential spin-off series on HBO Max, an origin story on Fate would be most interesting, à la "Peacemaker."
Aldis Hodge, who is very good as Hawkman, is also given a running gag with Noah Centineo's Atom Smasher/Al Rothstein that's vaguely amusing.
Otherwise, the small-critic screening Insider attended was quiet for the majority of the film.
Much of that is because the coleads aren't interesting. For the first 20 minutes, it's unclear if "Black Adam" is supposed to be a superhero movie featuring the Rock or a bait-and-switch "Mummy" spin-off, thanks to the introduction of three Kahndaq citizens — a professor named Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), her spunky son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), and her electrician brother, Karim (Mohammed Amer) — who aren't entertaining enough to carry screen time without the Rock.
"Black Adam" starts off pretty slow with Adrianna's family until Johnson, shrouded in a cloak, shows up and brutally takes down a room full of baddies.
Black Adam rips off limbs and tosses bad guys like rag dolls. When his face is finally revealed to the crowd, it's done in an epic slow-mo action sequence to the tune of The Rolling Stones' "Paint It, Black" to show off his character's sheer power. Missiles and rockets fly his way, but nothing causes a dent in him. Instead, he hurls them back. Black Adam is practically indestructible.
The Rock was born to play this role and it'd be fascinating to see him go toe-to-toe with other characters in the DC universe, like Shazam, Aquaman, or maybe even Superman, who Johnson has advocated for a battle with for some time now.
Instead, he's largely stuck in a movie with lackluster humans and none of the recognizable A-list DC characters we've come to know over the past decade.
It doesn't make sense that we were introduced to another superhero group when the Justice League and Suicide Squad exist
If you're going to call in a group of heroes to stop a man with God-like powers, you would want to get ahold of some heavy hitters who are Gods in their own right. You know, like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, or Superman.
In "Black Adam," we get the Justice Society of America, a group made up of two veteran heroes, Hawkman and Dr. Fate, and two newbies, Atom Smasher and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), who are learning on the job.
Most of these characters feel like knock-offs of ones audiences already know. Centineo's chatty Atom Smasher is essentially Ant-Man with a Deadpool mask.
Then there's Doctor Fate, who viewers might see as a dollar-store version of Doctor Strange.
Of course, that's not entirely true. Both DC heroes were introduced first in the comics, but Marvel beat WB to the punch by establishing its similar, and now popular, characters first on-screen.
There's nothing wrong with the JSA characters, per se, but it makes little sense to ask for help from a downgraded amateur Justice League when the A-list heroes should be available. Watching "Black Adam" made us wonder if there was ever a timeline in which we could've seen Johnson's antihero throwing punches with the Justice League instead of a ragtag group.
It doesn't help that "Black Adam" contains constant reminders of the Justice League throughout. Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, Batman, and Superman posters and toys in Amon's room serve as a reminder that the heroes still exist somewhere on Earth. Without any real inclusion of them, however, they're a bleak reminder of WB's failure to form a cohesive DC universe to keep up with the MCU machine.
It's distracting how much 'Black Adam' borrows from other superhero movies
Plenty of moments in "Black Adam" feel so obviously plucked from other superhero movies that they took us out of the film. There's a scene early in "Black Adam" where Hawkman's jet flies up out of the ground of his mansion. Out of context, the scene could easily be confused for the "X-Men" jet leaving Charles Xavier's home.
And when Black Adam first meets Amon in his own superhero-themed bedroom, there are echoes of Tony Stark and Peter Parker's first interaction.
When Amon inspires his city to raise their hands up in a triangle formation, it feels like the film is trying to deliver its own forced "Wakanda Forever" moment, hoping it will catch on whenever you think of Black Adam. It won't. It lacks the emotional depth and heart that came with "Black Panther."
It's as if someone at Warner Bros. suggested they cobble together scenes and concepts from successful superhero movies in order to engineer a hit. But "Black Adam" should've focused on doing its own thing rather than emulating other successes.
The film's twist is frustratingly predictable and descends into a bonkers third act with an over-the-top villain
For those who have watched any trailer or have listened to Johnson speak at DC's virtual events over the past two years, a big reveal about Black Adam's backstory was given away ages ago, and thus, falls flat when finally seen on-screen.
But even those who avoided trailers and spoilers probably could've predicted the obvious twist from the opening scene.
The film then takes an unexpected turn in its third act when it falls victim to a classic superhero-movie stereotype: A huge CGI demon monster wants to take over the world. The "Black Adam" villain could be easily replaced with other DC menaces from 2016's "Suicide Squad" or "Justice League."
The main difference here is that this demon looks like Satan. Despite having roots in the comics, it's where "Black Adam" jumps the shark. The way the character is handled is so cartoonish that it feels like the sort of resolution you'd expect from an early 2000s superhero flick.
It's frustrating watching DC make some of the same mistakes over and over again with its films. The studio continues to craft some excellent breakout characters, but it often comes at the price of a middling superhero standalone.
The Rock made one decent DC superhero movie this year, and this, unfortunately, wasn't it.
"Black Adam" is in theaters on Friday.
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