15 years ago, the people that make DC Comics booked the charismatic wrestler turned actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. And since then, Johnson has become one of the largest international movie stars, making massively successful four quadrant movies one after another. But, he never took on a superhero role. So with the semi-success Shazam and a little bit of a tie-on, Black Adam finally got the necessary swagger (and funding) to go forward.
Largely based on a re-creation of a legacy character by Geoff Johns and others, the Black Adam film has been a success commercially. But, the film has some issues that critics have pointed out.
Black Adam is built largely around Johnson’s charisma. Except that the character The Rock is portraying doesn’t lend itself into a charismatic, charming character. He is a dour, angry anti-hero that lacks any of the sense of fun that Johnson is known for. (There is a reason every time the WWE tried to turn The Rock into a heel that crowds revolted and cheered him anyways.)
But from his introduction in the movie, Black Adam is a menace. And while that reign of terror is laregely aimed at bad guys and people strip mining his land, there is a complete lack of moral code that governs most heroes. Superman is for truth, justice and the American Way. Spider-Man reminds us that with great power must also come great responsibility.
Black Adam seems to be governed just by, well, don’t piss him off?
Which isn’t to say that approach isn’t somewhat addressed. The appearance of the Justice Society of America is to confront the way that this newly appeared hero of Kahndaq is wielding his immense power. They tag him thanks to Amanda Waller, who seems to be everywhere in the DC Universe, but most notably from the Suicide Squad movies.
And the Justice Society is one of the better parts of the movie. Aldis Hodge is fantastic as Hawkman who is the erstwhile leader of the JSA, partnering with the young heroes Atom Smasher and Cyclone and the aging Dr. Fate, who is magnificently portrayed by Pierce Brosnon in one of the highlights of the movie. But where they were supposed to play the role of superhero cops, they really just exists to let Black Adam smack them around and destroy Kahndaq in the ensuing melee.
And, oh boy, Kahndaq. There is an interesting storyline there as Kahndaq is a colonialized area that is being stripped of its resources, run by mercenaries. And the ones who summoned the champion of Black Adam point that out to the JSA, mentioning that they only showed up once a powerful hero showed as well. When they were just an oppressed nation, no one cared. But that storyline is just a mist that quickly vanishes, just like the weird subplot of Black Adam having a connection with Clint Eastwood.
All in all, Black Adam is an okay superhero movie that tries to do too much, including its mid-credit scene, where Amanda Waller threatens Black Adam and then Superman, portrayed by Henry Cavill shows up.
So what does this all mean for the DC superhero universe? Who knows?
But there are some interesting things that have happened since Black Adam’s release. First, James Gunn, who is responsible for the good Suicide Squad movie and the hit television show Peacemaker for DC, in addition to his work for Marvel, largely around the Guardians of the Galaxy. Partnering him with the producer of the Shazam movie, it will be interesting to see if they can right the ship for DC, which has such immense potential for so many stories but cannot quite seem to make those a reality.
But, if they continue with the planned releases it will be awhile before we have seen any massive impact from the new regime. Between now and then, there are movies in the can, or close to completion, including a Shazam sequel, an Aquaman film, an origin story movie for the Blue Beetle and a Flash movie that they may have to shelf because the star of it cannot seem to act like a rational human being in public. (And strangely the Joker sequel will NOT be a part of the DC Studios system but as another part of Warner Brothers.)
And my first reaction on the news that Henry Cavill was leaving the Netflix series The Witcher, being replaced by Liam Hemsworth in season 4 was that Warner Brothers got the dump truck of money to buy Cavill’s freedom to speed up that production.
In the end, I am and have always been a Marvel Zombie. But even I have respect for the DC universe and the immense potential it could have. (If someone hasn’t pitched the Russo Brothers on directing a Judas Contract movie in the vein and style of Winter Soldier, what exactly do movie executives do?!?) So here is hoping the new regime will help bring some great stories to the screen, far from the past in general and Zack Snyder specifically.