So much potential, so little Fate…
HENRY CAVILL IS BACK! No, wait – aw shit! – he’s gone again…
Black Adam awakens from a 5000-year slumber. And only James Bond can sing him back to sleep.
Born from the same magic as Captain Marvel (i.e. by pronouncing the word “SHAZAM!”), ancient protector Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is awakened by archaeologist Adrianna (Sarah Shahi, looking like a DARK CRYSTAL muppet), who seeks an ancient Crown of Sabbac in the land of Kahndaq. (It’s a fictional country, but just think Afghanistan, Iran, anywhere al Qaeda.) Legend tells of a Champion that will return when Kahndaq is most oppressed – even though Adrianna summoned him to help her escape bad guys called Intergang, that also seek the Crown of MacGuffin, which counts as “most oppressed” I guess, if you’re the hot female lead.
After Adam slaughters Intergang members, Agent Waller (the SUICIDE SQUAD bitch) sends in members of the Justice Society of America to quell him. Enter A-Listers Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), and D-Listers Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), all trying to trick Adam into saying “Shazam” to turn him back to a mortal. Movie is mostly Hawkman losing his temper, the two Millennial dweeb-supers doing fuck-all, and Dr. Fate being cooler than Vision and James Bond put together.
Then a demon appears, which is affected surprisingly adversely by human punchaboo. Which leads us to the BLACK ADAM Top 5 Bottom 5…
Bottom 5 – TWO HAWKEYES
Who ARE these people? Along for the ride with Fate and Hawkman, the Golden Age greats of the Justice Society (created 1940, twenty years prior to the Justice League), are two D-list nobodies, both created in 1996: Cyclone (granddaughter to the original Red Tornado), and Atom Smasher (who becomes an ally to Black Adam in the comics); only here for the Young Adult demo, with the Disney ethos of the girl being smarter and more adept than the boy, who’s like a teen who can’t control his erections.
Cyclone breaks wind (real worthwhile against a superhuman), and Atom Smasher becomes big and hard (what’d I say about erections?). (The classic DC hero Atom wasn’t good enough for this film? Copyright hassles? ANT-MAN got there first?) One would think Atom Smasher’s blows could rend atoms apart, thereby negating a being’s existence – he even attributes his big appetite to “taking lots of energy to smash atoms” – nope, just normal punching while being giant and looking like Deadpool.
Bottom 4 – PUNCHABOO DEMON
A half-rendered CGI demon rises up for the special effects third act sky beam trope. It’s not the effects at fault here (the poor CGI guys are underpaid and overworked) – it’s the fact that his prosaic goal is to simply sit on a stone throne, and he is stopped by – punchaboo. One would think a supernatural entity would not be affected by mere human physical fists, but even Giant Guy and Wind Girl go to town on his ass, which is apparently affected just like any guy being punched in this dimension. The lack of creative thought in superhero movies is astounding.
Using the George Lucas Method of Making Shit Up As You Go Along, the anti-climactic climax sees Dr Fate sacrifice himself (for no reason), people fighting zombies in the streets (for no reason), Adrianna’s son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) saving the day by making the Van Halen sign (because – Running With The Devil, I guess), and Adam and Hawkman punching the demon, with Hawkman using Dr Fate’s helmet, because apparently, you can do that in times of demon. (My question: if Hawkman can use Fate’s helmet to battle alongside Adam, why didn’t Fate use his own helmet and battle alongside Adam, instead of dying? Why do the filmmakers pretend that the majestic Doctor Fate couldn’t have annihilated this supernatural foe with one hand tied behind his cosmic back?) Refrain: The lack of creative thought in superhero movies is astounding.
Bottom 3 – WALLER’S CONFUSED HYPOCRISY
The weak-sauce premise in BLACK ADAM is that the JSA is pitted against Adam for killing Intergang members without trial. You’re kidding me, right? Agent Waller (Viola Davis) is a fine one to talk, after her ethics in SUICIDE SQUAD (i.e. killing her own staff in cold blood because they had no authorization, blackmailing a merc with his daughter, etc.). Now, most government agents are hypocrites – Do As I Say, Not As I Do – so we accept her hypocrisy on that level… but she is supposedly working to abolish terrorism in the world, and Intergang are unequivocally terrorists, so what does she care if they are killed without trial? End result is the same – less terrorism.
Hawkman says: “We’re the Justice Society. Our mission is to protect global stability. And we will use force if necessary!” Well, Adam is using necessary force to protect global stability. So Hawkman’s antagonism toward Adam is unfounded and his admonitions naïve; both the JSA and Adam are against the tyrannical Intergang, so why not approach Adam with words instead of punchaboo? Adam maintains, “I’m no hero,” yet if he’s only killing those who threaten the lives of the innocent, then he IS. It seemed like the filmmakers just wanted to make JSA and Adam work together “begrudgingly” against Intergang because they read somewhere that it was good screenwriting.
90% of the fighting in this movie is irrelevant.
Why are they trying to un-super Adam anyway? When they succeed, Waller imprisons him in a submersion chamber – only for Fate to revive him immediately when the demon rises.
Bottom 2 – BACKSTORUS MAXIMUS
“Five thousand years ago, the city of Kahndaq… blah blah…” – who’s paying ANY attention to this narration, over gorgeous visuals that bombard our thinking nerves? Except twelve comicbook nerds who are only here to pick apart the mistakes in canon. Movie flashes back time and again to overwrought backstory about the king of Kahndaq and Adam as slave, Adam’s son, Djimon Hounsou’s wizard, Adam’s wife who looks like Sarah Shahi and— It could have been compressed into one minute of text crawl.
In one flashback, we discover Adam was not a force for good, but inadvertently destroyed Kahndaq in a rage of revenge against the evil king. Which is why the JSA wants to ensure it doesn’t happen again. So there is nuance, there is moral ambiguity, there are touching moments between Adam as father to the slave boy who led the revolt, and we can argue that Adam’s arc is from anti-hero to hero… but all is lost in these bombastic flashbacks with too much visual gluttony assaulting our senses.
Bottom 1 – THE HENRY AFFAIR
The worst thing about BLACK ADAM is that the best thing about BLACK ADAM was snatched from us – Superman! Henry Cavill’s Superman.
It was already known that Cavill would not be reprising his Superman in the DCEU – not through any fault of his, but because of the skewed vision of one man, made autocratic creative head of the DCEU at Warner Bros, James Gunn, who announced that none of the Snyderverse actors would reprise their roles (i.e. no Cavill’s Superman, Affleck’s Batman, Miller’s Flash, Gadot’s Wonder Woman…). Dwayne Johnson, as producer, star, and box office megalodon, fought to reinstate Cavill (game knows game), and in the movie’s coda, for a few hard-won seconds, the greatest ever Man of Steel:
“It’s been a while since anyone’s made the world this nervous… Black Adam. We should talk.”
And as suddenly as he was reinstated, Warner Bros. changed its mind, and tossed Henry out… As disappointed as WE are, think about what it must have done to the man. Not only is it a high prominence, high-paying job, it’s one that he must prep for extremely physically, and he has been quoted as being proud to be a steward of the character. His equanimity in the face of such dashing gloom is laudable; an educated gentleman amongst a world of valley girls, chuds, karens and republiKKKans; a true Superman.
And for Johnson’s efforts in pleasing the fans, he went against the dictator – so found himself inadvertently kicked out of the Black Adam role. Our ecstasy was short-lived. And the world returns to the whirlpool of muck it has always been.[primal scream]
Bottom – Honorable Mention: DON’T MESS WITH THE MAESTRO
A snatch of Ennio Morricone’s immortal music used in a standoff between Adam and soldiers –misused in every sense. The filmmakers (writers Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani, and director Jaume Collet-Sara, NON-STOP, RUN ALL NIGHT, JUNGLE CRUISE) foreshadow this bit on a TV playing the standoff scene from THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY. In that movie, we didn’t know who might be the faster draw (Clint, Angel Eyes or Tuco) – but here, there is no such tension as we’ve just witnessed Adam taking down an army, complete with tanks and helicopters. Facing down a few soldiers is cheesecake.
Top – Honorable Mention: AAAAY!
Henry Winkler cameos as the original Atom Smasher, uncle of the youth onscreen. He’s not the actual Atom, just stunt casting another D-character. Still, The Fonz deserves an honorable mention.
Top 5 – BLACK HAWKMAN
Hawkman is reimagined as an Angry Black Man. I love the design of the suit, but I’m not too happy about its “nanobot” tech (i.e. helmet and wings appearing out of nowhere). And really – did they have to make the black guy the irrational antagonistic member of the Justice Society?
They’ve changed his name from Katar Hol (from the planet Thanagar) to just some millionaire named Carter Hall (which was Hawkman’s alter-ego amongst society). He lives in a castle, flies a jet outfitted like a spacecraft, wields a magic mace (by that I mean, it appears out of nowhere whenever he wants to use it), and berates Adam just a little too much.
Top 4 – SUPER SUPER EFFECTS
2013’s MAN OF STEEL visualized a whole new way of a super man existing in our environment; how he hovered, flew, super-sped, and fought in mid-air. Those elements have improved exponentially in BLACK ADAM. If only Henry Cavill could’ve benefitted from this technology in sequels to MAN OF STEEL.
Fuck Warner Bros.
Top 3 – BLACK DWAYNE
With his trapezius outgrowing his costume, Dwayne Johnson is the visual embodiment of the comicbook anti-hero, Black Adam (sans widow’s peak)! With super-speed, invincibility, super-strength, flight, lightning from his hands, he is the dark version of Superman. Eternium is his kryptonite – which the Crown of McGuff is made from.
Though there are continual back-and-forths about whether he is a hero or not, he continually proves himself one, as he touchingly allies with Adrianna and her son Amon (who looks like my past super roadie Stefan – there’s a Top 5 trait right there!), who suggests the change of name from Teth to Black. In flashbacks, we see a de-muscled Rock (which is unintentionally funny), and we glean his arc from one of selfishness to charity.
And Johnson brings with him a comedic sensibility – not too dry, and not too Marvel.
Top 2 – SON OF BLACK
Adam fights to preserve the memory of a massive statue that was once erected in his honor, now weather-beaten… The reveal of the statue’s identity brings a tear to the eye: it is not of Teth-Adam, the destroyer of Kahndaq in his rage – it is his son (Jalon Christian), the slave who led the revolt as the original Shazam.
Top 1 – DOCTOR FATE
The best thing about BLACK ADAM is – Doctor Fate! Always my favorite visual design for a superhero, when I first saw that golden helmet as a kid, I was sold! If it weren’t for that helmet, Boba Fett would never have existed, his helmet an echo descendant of this dark sorcerer. They’ve removed the eye-holes – and that just makes him cooler!
Fate is Kent Nelson here, the original character from the 1940 comics, with the coolest superhero costume in the history of superhero costumes; his helmet from another dimension, Egyptian ankh on his chest; his magic who cares fuck you represented as golden crystalline shards materializing in the air around him, his voice a booming thunderclap, with the regal countenance of Pierce Brosnan simply sealing the gravitas and perfect imperious demeanor of Earth’s Mightiest Sorcerer.
First, they LETHAL WEAPON him (he tells Hawkman he’s getting too old for this shit), then they George Lucas him (he lost the will to live), as he sacrifices himself to the James Gunn takeover.
So there you have the BLACK ADAM Top 5 Bottom 5, Movie Maniacs. I could be wrong… but you know I’m right.