A wise DC comics character once noted, “you either die the hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” In the case of the DCEU, no one quite fits this bill as aptly as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Once described as “franchise Viagra,” we’ve entered an odd place for the action star. His movies are doing fine at the box office, and his foray into the superhero world is no different. Spinning out of the Shazam! corner of DC, Black Adam sought to bring new life to the universe. However, we are now less than 24 hours after Johnson posted an Instagram message indicating he will leave the franchise. Confronting what does not work about Black Adam is sadly an easy task, and it begins with its star.

For those who missed Black Adam, the plot revolves around an ancient man fighting for freedom against those who enslave him. As the powerful king is about to crown himself with a weapon known as the Crown of Sabbac, Teth-Adam (Johnson) defeats his would-be slavers. However, because he lashed out with his powers, a council of wizards traps Adam in a tomb. Fast forward several millennia, and Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi), an archeologist, stumbles upon the resting place of the Crown of Sabbac. When mercenaries attempt to obtain the crown, Adrianna accidentally awakens Teth-Adam. The stir causes the Justice Society, led by Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) to intervene before Adam becomes unstoppable.

Johnson physically fits the part, and that has never been the problem facing the movie star. Instead, Johnson has simply lost the sheen that allowed him to thrive as a star. Every aspect of Black Adam comes across as a vanity project, instead of the film he’s longed to make. Nothing about Adam is approaching normalcy. In fact, he is so absurdly overpowered, it is impossible to stop him, even for a group of heroes with a varied skillset. This all might work if Johnson was playing a character audience were familiar with before the film.

However, Adam is anything but mainstream. Despite some recent comics focused on Black Adam, he has largely been an antagonist for Shazam. Instead, audiences are getting their first exposure to his godlike power, with no stakes or antagonists that will even make him sweat. This is not someone we inherently feel sorry for or have sympathy for. Instead, Black Adam attempts to create a big twist, which fails horribly in its execution.

What’s worse is Black Adam‘s unwillingness to let anyone besides Johnson take center stage. Much of the action revolves around his T2 inspired story (where a young boy teaches Adam the difference between doing the right thing versus the wrong thing). Hodge and Brosnan show their own star qualities, but are almost entirely subserviant to Johnson throughout the film. When they are not literally bending over backwards to take his one-liners, they are often relegated to the background.

The visual styling of Black Adam does little to make the film a fun experience. We’ve seen dozens of CG battles over the past year, and many have evolved to show more than a man simply punching those who come up against him. Yet Black Adam‘s stunt work and CG effects do little to bring the audience into the story. Director Jaume Collett-Serra seems to be stuck in blockbuster jail, following Johnson from project to project. However, these CG environments lack any tactility, and thus, lack any staying power. It’s a shame to see a talented director lose what made him special working on films like The Shallows.

Worse, Johnson lost his ability to play self-depricating humor a long time ago. If anything, this is the ultimate step in his self-serious phase. Even when other characters try to lighten the mood, he simply smolders at the camera and angrily asks for things to go his way. This is Thor without the humbling, because Black Adam simply cuts through enemies like they’re butter. Without any challenges, we cannot feel for Johnson’s depiction of the character.

However, this is not an issue exclusive to this film or this franchise. Johnson has turned into a something of an unbeatable force in every film. The man once known to play into the joke (as recently as Pain & Gain or Fast Five) has turned that side off. He fashions himself a comedian, but rarely hits the jokes and one-liners. The collaborations with Kevin Hart often involve Hart debasing himself to further show Johnson’s size. There’s no vulnerability on screen anymore from Johnson, and as a result, his career feels micromanaged to death.

To be honest, it hurts writing this about an actor I genuinely admire for his devotion to pleasing fans. However, when everything he does is meant solely for fan service or clout, then he becomes less of an icon and more of a people pleaser. Unfortunately for Johnson, we have also turned a corner, as audiences stayed away from Black Adam. His once devoted fanbase simply did not feel it was worth their time. This has been a problem since the public feuds with Vin Diesel left both actors struggling to make good movies. Oddly, that pairing worked once, and it might have been the last time we were excited for a project featuring either of them.

Without critical support or audience support, Johnson will approach a crossroads. He can continue to make blockbusters in his sleep, and they will continue to feel like empty calories. There’s a reason that San Andreas, Skyscraper, and Rampage have almost no cultural footprint. However, if Johnson lets go of his ego, he could still reverse course. Working with genuine auteur filmmakers, or at least directors who will challenge him, will extend his career for decades. However, if all Johnson seeks is his quota and his power, he may find himself struggling to make even middling crime films in the next two decades.

Alan’s Rating: 4/10

What do you think of Black Adam? Let us know in the comments below. Warner Brothers distributes Black Adam. It is currently available in theaters.

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4 thoughts on “Review: ‘Black Adam,’ DC, and the Rock Blockbuster Problem

  1. I’m a comic buff and am familiar with his history and the way they told the story is NOT how it actually happened. BA is supposed to be an enemy of Shazam, who shared the same teacher, but BA was headstrong and expected to succeed his master to receive his status and power. When that didn’t happen, he rebelled and began to use his powers for revenge and personal gain. Had they taken that approach I feel the movie would’ve done better.

  2. For a person who has degrees in English literature and communication, your writing has surprisingly many typos and grammatical errors. What the heck is “angerly”?
    “Confronting what does not work about Black Adam sadly an easy task, and it begins with its star.” There needs to be an “is” somewhere in the first part of this sentence.
    You don’t mow through butter, you mean grass.
    You cannot even properly write a piece of critique and proofread it adequately before posting, but you have the audacity to trash a multi-million dollar movie. Wow, what a nerve.

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