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Dwayne Johnson in a still from Black Adam. The Rock’s new film comes at a critical time for DC, after Batgirl axing and The Flash scandals kept the Warner Bros. subsidiary lagging. Long in the making, will Black Adam be the superhero movie that saves DC? Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

Will Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Black Adam save DC Universe after its axing of another superhero film, Batgirl, and The Flash controversy?

  • The Rock’s new film comes at a critical time for DC, after Batgirl’s axing and Ezra Miller scandals have kept the Warner Bros. subsidiary off the pace of Marvel
  • Johnson thinks the timing of his superhero debut is perfect, and that it will usher in a new era for DC, even though the road to this Black Adam movie was long

In Hollywood’s superhero era thus far, there has been one particularly conspicuous absence: while a parade of big-name actors have taken their turns donning various spandex suits, Dwayne Johnson – arguably the biggest movie star in the world – has, until now, sat out the trend.

The Rock didn’t really need a cape to prove his powers. The 1.96 metre (6ft 5in), 118kg (260lb) actor was, in many respects, already a superhero in his own right: a skyscraper-climbing hulk, a shape-shifting demigod, even a bulked-up tooth fairy.

“I was always ready and open to playing a superhero,” says Johnson. “But it had to be right and it had to feel right. I had been approached before in the past about playing a few superheroes that, ultimately, I ended up passing on. They ended up going to the right actors to play them. I just waited.”

The fates have finally aligned in Black Adam, a debut so seamless that it could be called redundant. When Johnson was first trying on Black Adam’s suit, he had the muscle padding removed.

Johnson’s entry into the superhero business comes at a crucial juncture for the DC Extended Universe, which has been plagued of late by scandal and misfires.

Ezra Miller, star of the upcoming The Flash, has been arrested twice this year amid reports of troubling behaviour.

I think the timing is actually perfect. What an opportunity we have … the hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change
Dwayne Johnson

Batgirl, a US$90 million (HK$700 million) movie completed for HBO Max, was summarily axed, prompting an outcry over its atypical cancellation.

Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav has promised a “reset” to the studio’s DC operations in an overhaul to implement a more Marvel-like 10-year structure and improve quality. At the fulcrum of these two eras sits Black Adam, which opens in cinemas on October 20.

Amid such turmoil, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be welcoming in a movie star as popular as Johnson, who has 341 million followers on Instagram and is often forced to deflect questions about a possible presidential run. But just how much stability can The Rock bring to DC?

Dwayne Johnson in a still from Black Adam. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

“I think the timing is actually perfect. What an opportunity we have. I have been saying for years now that the hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change,” says Johnson.

Not many saw Black Adam as such an axis-tilting force before Johnson became associated with the character.

The ancient Egyptian supervillain, created by Otto Binder and C.C. Beck, first appeared in a 1945 issue by Fawcett Comics – a major company in the golden age of comic books from the 1930s-50s – before the character rights were sold to DC in the 1970s.

Black Adam has generally been portrayed as a foe to Captain Marvel (not the one played by Brie Larson since 2019). More recent treatments have pushed Black Adam more towards anti-hero status, something the film, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ( Jungle Cruise), extends. Black Adam, summoned to modern day, is depicted as a reluctant hero who fears his own powers.

How Black Adam would be introduced to movie audiences wasn’t always clear. Initially, Captain Marvel, also known as Shazam, and Black Adam were to debut in a movie together. After the scripting stage, Johnson and others felt the combined launch did a disservice to Black Adam.

“We did have a template for a really good idea, but ultimately both characters required so much space to properly launch them. We were just struggling in terms of bandwidth that the script could hold and in terms of tone, as well,” says producer Hiram Garcia.

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“Inherently, as you saw with how the Shazam movie came out, that movie is just so different tonally from how Black Adam is.”

Shazam! starring Zachary Levi, was a goofy, well-received body-swap hit, grossing US$366 worldwide in 2019. A sequel is due out in March. The ambitions for Black Adam are bigger.

The film, made with a budget roughly twice that of Shazam!, also introduces the Justice Society of America, a superhero team of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell).

Pierce Brosnan (left) and Dwayne Johnson in a still from Black Adam. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

“I always felt like it was a matter of convincing our studio partners to try to look beyond the Justice League,” Johnson says. “I love the Justice League. But when you look past them, you open up the DC bible. There are so many cool characters you can tap into.”

It’s been a long haul to develop the film, tailor the part to Johnson and shoot the movie around Covid-19 delays. Johnson was first announced to play Black Adam way back in 2014.

“Easy and this process have not gone together,” Garcia says.

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But the filmmakers were committed to giving Black Adam the proper launch. “If Dwayne Johnson’s going to do a superhero, the powers better be A-plus,” says producer Beau Flynn.

As of this summer, Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy are running Warner Bros.’ revamped film division, though no new DC leader has yet been appointed. Zaslav has been seeking his studio’s answer to Marvel’s Kevin Feige to take the reigns. For Johnson, Black Adam is part of that new chapter for DC.

“I think you’re feeling this sense of urgency and the sense of excitement. This has been a great convergence of Black Adam coming out and new leadership,” says Johnson.

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Tracking reports have suggested that Johnson, 50, could be headed for his biggest opening weekend ever at the box office with Black Adam. But sounding a little like his WWE wrestler, Johnson is also eyeing his next opponent. Black Adam, he believes, is a lesser power to no superhero. He’s gunning for Superman.

“For five years, the most powerful and unstoppable force in the entire superhero universe has been idle on the sidelines. All that had to come to a new end,” says Johnson.

“This is what I mean with this new era in the DC universe. Let’s get that hero off the sidelines and on the big screen.”