Jaume Collet-Black Serra’s Adam, a superhero film where a likely presidential candidate demonstrates how satisfying it is to use overwhelming force when no one is strong enough to challenge you, will, for the majority of viewers, just be another fine-not-great night of spandex mayhem and franchises hoping to be born. Given the complex global concerns the film discusses but doesn’t completely address, some audiences might find it difficult to find escapist enjoyment here. Even while it is terrible to have to sift through the carnival of pop culture for clues about future foreign policy (and to conjure up dangerous scenarios involving an endearing performer like Dwayne Johnson), that is the environment in which we currently reside.
Before deciding if it’s entertaining or not, let’s be clear that Black Adam is all about the advantages of dispatching American force to trouble regions across the globe and that it is therefore very readily interpreted as a defense of isolationism. It may be read almost as simply as a criticism of the previous inactivity. From a distance, this appears to be more motivated by a desire to appeal to all audiences—honestly or not—than a knowledge of the complexities of geopolitics. Both Hollywood and Washington are doing business as normal, although the latter location is somewhat more challenging.
Politics aside, most comic book fans would immediately recognize that, despite our prayers that DC will move on, there are more than just echoes of the Snyderverse here. The first scene features slow motion and flying blood globules that resemble 300 outtakes. The movie suffers from obvious slo-mo, and gossipers are already aware of deeper connections to Zack Snyder’s movies.
Given the abundance of superpowered costars present, it may be due to identification with the macho side of DC’s mythos that the anticipated one is missing. Instead of focusing on inflated egos and long-forgotten grudges, the Shazam of David F. Sandberg’s surprisingly endearing 2019 picture would be welcome, but Zachary Levi’s boy-turned-hero isn’t going to appear.
However, we do get a quick glimpse of the wizard who bestowed Billy Batson’s abilities. In flashbacks, a monarch in the kingdom of Kahndaq, which resembles ancient Egypt, makes his people work in mines to find the miraculous substance Eternium. A little child who attempted to incite an uprising is instead taken, prisoner. However, just as he is about to be put to death, wizards save him, turning him into a godlike champion. In a fight driven by wrath, this champion instantly destroys the king and his home.
A Kahndaq scholar called Adrianna (Sarah Shahi) searches for a lost tomb for the king’s Eternium crown millennia later. She discovers it and unknowingly brings the long-dead champion back to life just as Intergang, the mercenary group that has ravaged Kahndaq for years, attacks her mission. Violence follows.
Teth Adam, Johnson’s revived warrior, receives most of his information about contemporary life via Adrianna’s son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui). Since mother and son have been working covertly to undermine Intergang, having the magic crown just makes them more of a target. Teth Adam, however, seems unconcerned with their woes and corrects the youngster for not understanding that resorting to violence is a solution to such issues.
Some people show more interest. To go get the crown and lock it up in America, Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) recruits Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan) and other lesser-known heroes. They travel the world in a plane with a removable cockpit that would make any wealthy owner of phallic rockets envy, and they then act (at least in Adrianna’s opinion) like enforcers of a paternalistic Western power system.
Hawkman, a law-and-order figure who is as adamant about upholding the current quo as Teth Adam is about killing everyone who looks at him incorrectly, gains a tough edge from Hodge. The movie does a good job of dramatizing their opposing strategies while empathizing with the confused residents of contemporary Kahndaq: When they didn’t have any valuables to guard, they undoubtedly sought the West’s assistance; nowadays, Teth Adam’s aesthetic is more appealing.
The magnetic antihero that johnson generates is erratic and antagonistic. He stalks the skies rather than flies, swatting enemies away like the weightless CG pixels they are. Furthermore, the character benefits from this side endeavor, which positions him for future adventures that one hopes will be less formulaic than this one.
And perhaps, as Teth Adam progressively puts together a moral worldview over the course of several films, America will grow out of its horrifying propensity to elect superstars who have no expertise in running countries. Unfortunately, more than wizards and magic rocks will be required.