Review by Daniel Blackaby October 21, 2022
Black Adam (Christian Movie Review)
Verdict: A paint-by-numbers comic book film that uses only the drabbest colors.
About The Movie
Black Adam, the latest entry in the DC Universe, is finally soaring into theaters after several delays. Audiences have been waiting patiently to smell what Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been cooking up. Unfortunately, they better plug their nose because the cooking stinks. Black Adam an unappetizing stew of dissonant ideas and tones.
The character of Black Adam is invulnerable, but his debut film suffers a death from a thousand cuts. It does no one thing torturously bad but simply does nothing well. It is astonishing that a film featuring one of Hollywood’s most charismatic leading men can be so boring and unengaging.
One of Black Adam‘s biggest problems is an inconsistent tone and lack of a clear identity. The opening scenes are compelling, hinting at a dark and more violent take on the genre. But the gritty vibe quickly gives way to painfully campy dialogue and goofy gags. An opening character’s death is almost shockingly gruesome, but outside of the first action scene, deaths are treated as cartoonish and frivolous jokes. The film never seems sure how serious to take itself, wavering between grounded realism and lighthearted fantasy, and landing in the no-man’s land between the two.
The plot is somehow both convoluted and overly simplistic. For most of the film, a new team of heroes (The Justice Society of America) are on a mission to capture Black Adam, leading to a first half that is almost entirely given spectacle-driven action scenes, without much time to breathe or get to know the characters. There’s also a repetitive subplot about an evil crown that the villains want to obtain. At least three different times the same twist is used of having a character seemingly capture with the crown only to reveal that it had been secretly given it to someone else. The story spins its wheels, constantly retreading ground rather than moving the plot forward.
The action and cinematography have some moments of inspiration, even if it is mostly stuff that has been done in countless other films, featuring highly stylized action and a gratuitous amount of slow motion. Cyclone, a hero with the power of wind, is a standout, whose superpowers are responsible for some vibrant visuals in the otherwise drab aesthetic.
The film scratches the surface several interesting ideas and themes (see below), but unfortunately these are buried under a barrage of action and spectacle. In the end, not even Dwayne Johnson’s super-powered charm and charisma can compensate for the lack of entertainment value, leaving Black Adam as nothing more than a paint-by-numbers comic book film that uses only the drabbest colors.
On the Surface
Profanity: There are frequent minor profanities (5-6 uses of “s—,” and several “d—,” or “a—”), and several other crude words (“P—s off,” etc.).
Violence: The death count is high but mostly bloodless. Countless bad guy goons are electrocuted, disintegrated, or smashed into walls. A character is melted down to a skeleton (not clearly depicted, but still gruesome). A character has his arm ripped off (the severed limb is visuable), and a demonic figure is ripped in half. There are also several instances of implied violence, such as Black Adam placing a grenade into another character’s mouth.
Spirituality: The story is set in an Egyptian-inspired civilization, where characters frequently refer to “the gods.” Black Adam talks about being “reborn as a god.” When Black Adam is temporality imprisoned, a character remarks, “They say gods control us, but we’re the ones always burying them.” The antagonists are powered by demonic forces. An evil magic crown is said to contain the power of six demons, who later appear on screen. The demons’ champion is given a devilish new form which includes a pentagram emblazoned on his chest.
Beneath The Surface
Engage The Film
Justice v. Vengeance (Do Ends Justify the Means?)
“The world doesn’t always need a white knight. Sometimes it needs something darker.” This line encapsulates the film’s central thematic tension. Black Adam, driven by rage and violence, is contrasted with The Justice Society of America (JSA), who refrain from killing and represent more methodical law and order. If Black Adam is the vigilant, then the JSA is the police.
After Black Adam goes on early murder spree of the country’s foreign oppressors, he is cheered and embraced as the people’s champion. Meanwhile, the JSA is rejected and rebuked for not doing what it takes to free them. It is an interesting moment, leaving viewers uneasy and unsure whether to sympathize with the people.
Concerning the oppressed people, Black Adam is told, “They don’t need a hero. They need to be free.” Throughout the story, it is suggested that what the people need (or, at least, desire) is vengeance rather than justice; results rather than virtue. It is suggested that it is Black Adam’s “darkness that lets him do what heroes cannot.” Eventually, near the end of the film, Black Adam declares, “They don’t need a hero. There are lots of heroes. They need a protector.”
The theme is intriguing from a narrative perspective but might be thorny for Christian viewers. The character of Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), who can see all possible futures, declares that we “don’t believe in absolutes.” Although, in context, the statement is not made with the direct implication of moral relativism, it is nevertheless consistent with the larger theme. Black Adam asks viewers to consider the tension between justice and vengeance, and whether peaceful ends justify violent means.