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Dwayne Johnson in a still from Black Adam.

Review | Black Adam movie review: Dwayne Johnson plays the vengeance-fuelled antihero in DC Extended Universe’s latest effects-driven blockbuster

  • Johnson brings charisma to his role as a vengeful superbeing freed from a crypt after 5,000 years only to face off against the Justice Society of America
  • But the breathless pace of the film, the plethora of pixels and lack of a human dimension make it less compelling than its stablemate Shazam! from 2019

3/5 stars

There’s a moment in Black Adam where Dwayne Johnson’s eponymous antihero burns down a poster of Superman in a kid’s bedroom. The message is clear: the new guard are here.

The latest blockbuster in the DC Extended Universe, Black Adam does not just introduce Johnson’s vengeance-fuelled character, but also the JSA (the Justice Society of America). Called into action by Viola Davis’ sharp-tongued Amanda Waller, the JSA must stop Teth Adam, to give him his ancient name, when he’s released from a tomb after 5,000 years.

Leading the pack is the aerially gifted Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), who looks like a much leaner version of Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon.

Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), “a tornado with an IQ of 167”, controls the wind in a blur of rainbow colours. Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) can see into the future and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) can change his molecular structure, making himself huge (echoing Ant-Man in the Avengers films).

Caught in the middle of this is Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), the widowed mother responsible for inadvertently unleashing Teth Adam during the search for an all-powerful crown.

Sarah Shahi and Pierce Brosnan in a still from Black Adam.

With the story being set in Kahndaq, a city under military occupation for the past 27 years, the occupants don’t exactly welcome the JSA, hailing Teth Adam as a saviour.

Able to fly, shoot lightning and deflect bullets, Johnson inhabits him with real charisma. “I’m no hero,” he growls, the root of the film’s sort-of tension.

On the opposite side, Brosnan brings gravitas to his wise-old soothsayer, while Swindell and Centineo forge a cute chemistry, with the latter’s slight clumsiness with his skyscraper-sized body adding much-needed levity.

Will The Rock as Black Adam be the superhero that saves the DC Universe?

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously worked with Johnson on Jungle Cruise, Black Adam sets its characters up well enough, but rarely pauses for breath.

The film’s landscape is heavily augmented by digital effects, making it hard to engage fully with this world drowning in explosions, fireballs and rubble, although, visually, there are some neat cues – notably one fight that sees marbles knocked in the air in slo-mo.

Quintessa Swindell in a still from Black Adam.
Ultimately, Black Adam lacks the human dimension that worked, say, for 2019’s more comically inclined Shazam!. Still, it’s got chutzpah.

One moment sees the end of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly play out on a TV – a ballsy move by Collet-Serra given that’s one of cinema’s greatest ever finales. And, no, Black Adam doesn’t come anywhere near Sergio Leone’s epic Western. But very few films do.

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