[Screen It]


(2022) (Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge) (PG-13)

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Superhero Action: A resurrected and seemingly indestructible anti-hero must contend with superheroes determined to capture and imprison him, all while he tries to stop a mercenary from finding a magical ancient crown that will make him just as powerful.

Like their ancestors millennia ago, the people of modern-day Kahndaq are subjected to tyranny, this time in the form of mercenaries known as the Intergang. They're in search of the legendary and all-powerful Crown of Sabbac that was created by a past king who wanted even more power. But he was vanquished by a new god-like champion who, like that crown, was then hidden away for thousands of years.

Also in search of that crown is Adrianna Tomaz (SARAH SHAHI) whose husband was murdered by the Intergang and is now raising her son, Amon (BODHI SABONGUI), with the help of her brother, Karim (MOHAMMED AMER). Eluding Intergang guards, Adrianna, Karim, and some associates -- including Ishmael (MARWAN KENZARI -- travel to a remote mountain where they believe the crown is hidden and they hope to find and relocate it before the Intergang gets their hands on it.

But those forces arrive, and with their own lives in danger, Adrianna manages to summon that champion from long ago, Teth-Adam (DWAYNE JOHNSON), who shows up and vanquishes the bad guys. Adrianna and especially Amon view him as their superhero -- when others of their kind have never set foot in Kahndaq -- but Teth-Adam has no intention of being that, especially with his penchant for killing bad people.

That reputation has resulted in members of the Justice Society -- Carter Hall a.k.a. Hawkman (ALDIS HODGE), Kent Nelson, a.k.a. Doctor Fate (PIERCE BROSNAN), and newcomers Maxine Hunkel, a.k.a. Cyclone (QUINTESSA SWINDELL), and Al Rothstein, a.k.a. Atom Smasher (NOAH CENTINEO) -- showing up to capture and imprison the seemingly indestructible Teth-Adam who has no intention of allowing that to happen. As they battle it out, they must contend with the leader of the Intergang moving closer to getting his hands on the crown that could turn him into an all-powerful, demonic being.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

I understand the old "fish out of water" plot meaning someone ending up in completely foreign environs, be that due to the physical setting, culture or, in many cinematic stories, time, but it's sort of a weird analogy because in the literal sense said fish won't last long without its agua. Be that as it may, such offerings usually use that out of place character bit for laughs (think of Marty McFly's initial interaction with the 1950s in "Back to the Future"), but sometimes it's present to point a finger at societal norms and so on.

In the case of "Black Adam," it's something introduced early on and played off, but then quickly abandoned. Which is a shame since the early related efforts sort of give the impression this could be akin to the second coming of Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 cyborg in "Terminator 2" and learning about his trappings (and slang and so on) from the teen he's sent there to protect.

In this story from Adam Sztykiel and Rory Haines & Sohrab Noshirvani that's been directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ("Jungle Cruise"), Dwayne Johnson plays the title character (who actually goes by the name Teth-Adam for most of the film) who's awakened, so to speak, from a 5,000-year slumber only to find himself in the present DC Comics Extended Universe.

Only the likes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and so on have never set foot in Kahndaq, a land that's long suffered at the hands of tyrants, ranging from the prologue where the "improved" version of Teth-Adam was created to deal with the corrupt king to current day where mercenaries collectively known as the Intergang have terrorized the citizens for the past 27 years.

Both back then and now, the bad guys want to get their hands on a demonic-fueled crown that would give them unlimited power, and thus Johnson's character is once again tasked to save the day. And like his cyborg cinematic cousin, he ends up partnered with a boy (Bodhi Sabongui) whose mom (Sarah Shahi) resurrected him as a last resort to save her and her brother's (Mohammed Amer) lives. The boy, a superhero junkie with images of such figures plastered across his bed, sees him as his hero. The only rub is that Teth-Adam doesn't view himself that way and instead is the classic anti-hero who has no problem killing the bad guys.

That doesn't sit well with the Justice Society and so some of its veteran members -- those being Hawkman (Aldis Hodge playing the real hero who's quite like his winged Marvel Comics counterpart) and powerful seer Kent Nelson (Pierce Brosnan sort of doing the Dr. Strange thing) -- and two newbies who feel like they escaped from the cast of the young X-Men movies -- Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone who can control wind and Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher who can grow to an immense but sometimes clumsy size -- join forces to control the anti-hero before they think it's too late.

And cue the requisite bashing and smashing of characters into buildings, streets, and so on as the battle royales ensue, followed by the eventual head villain (Marwan Kenzari) who likewise has a penchant for rock 'em, sock 'em action scenes. Those are handled decently (albeit perhaps with too many uses of slo-mo footage), and there's no denying Johnson's usual onscreen charisma (where, despite supposedly being the bad guy, he still comes across as mostly good and fun to watch dispatching justice, vigilante-style, on the real bad guys).

The latter are the weak link of the bunch, while the somewhat thin plot and various unanswered questions -- why Superman and company have never tried to save the folks in Kahndaq, how Hawkman can take such a beating, and so on -- end up as boring and distracting elements respectively.

That said, I found myself entertained enough -- and certainly intrigued by the mid-credits tease of something that appears to be on the near horizon and likely better than what's found here -- that I can partly forgive some of the issues. Including the eventual near abandonment of the humor-inducing fish out of water elements that worked fairly well early on. "Black Adam" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Posted October 21, 2022

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