Monday February 13, 2023
Movie Review: Black Adam (2022)
What’s worse—the dipshittery of this movie or the fact that it’s got an 88% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes? I guess for these people it’s all about the roller-coaster ride. It doesn’t have to make sense. You kidding? Making sense would just get in the way of the fun.
Example: If there’s an ancient, powerful item a night’s drive from the city—something that has been missing for 5,000 years—you’d think it might be, I don’t know, buried deep or something. You and your pals couldn’t just drive there in your van, walk through some tunnels, read some runes, walk into a room and “Oh, there it is, hanging in mid-air.” I mean, nobody ever did this before? Nobody even found it by accident?
How about this one? You’re a superpowered being from 2600 B.C. and you wake up in the modern world where men have automatic weapons, helicopters, and missiles. What’s your reaction? Whoa, something besides me can fly. Whoa, these projectiles are more powerful than rocks in slingshots. Here, he just glowers and says, “Your magic is weak.” Dude, if there’s one thing mankind has done well in the last 5,000 years, it’s figuring out better ways to kill each other. Show some respect.
I get it: Logic is dull. Having a dude that truly embodies 2600 B.C. is problematic. Let’s cut to the chase and the WWE catchphrases. Can you smell-ell-ell what Warner Bros. is cooking!?!
The Paulie Walnuts of superhero movies
Here’s what I think they thought.
Dude A: We could really use some multicultural superheroes. Or one.
Dude B: BIPOC.
Dude A: What?
Dude B: They’re called BIPOC now. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
Dude A: Whatevs. We got any?
Dude B: Black Adam. He’s Egyptian.
Dude A: Isn’t he a villain?
Dude B: We could make him a badass superhero type like Wolverine. You know, he doesn’t give a shit about due process, just kills people.
Dude A: And we could get The Rock to play him!
Dude B: The Rock isn’t Egyptian.
Dude A: Egyptian enough.
Yes, it takes corporate cojones to have one of your characters complain about “cultural appropriation” when you cast a Samoan as your Middle Eastern hero. But I guess it was all invented in white minds anyway: C.C. Beck and company in 1945.
The movie begins 5,000 years ago—never a good sign—when an evil pharaoh takes over the democratic nation-state of Kahndaq and has its people mine the desert looking for … is it eternium? Christ, what a name. One guy finds some, and his reward is to be kicked in slow motion off a cliff to his death. It’s like that early stupid scene from “300” when the hero kicks the dude into the hole. Expect more theft like that.
So a pudgy bald kid rises up, and he’s got a symbol—hands held above his head forming a triangle—and he rallies the people, and for his impudence he’s put to death. But no! The immortals give him the power of Shazam—Middle East version: Shu, Horus, Amon, Zehuti, Aton, Mehen. As Teth-Adam, he fights the pharaoh, who has the Crown of Sabbac, made of Eternium, and their subsequent battle destroys the palace. And the great hero is never seen again.
Cut to Kahndaq today. Now it’s being run by mercenaries called Intergang—imagine Blackwater in charge of Oman—with military checkpoints for locals. They’re in the process of searching a van that looks like the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine, while also looking for a superhot archeologist named Adrianna Tomaz (superhot Sarah Shahi), when a kid on a skateboard distracts them enough that they let the van go. Hey, guess what, Adrianna was in that van. And the annoying kid was her son! High five.
Who are the three dudes in the van with her? Adrianna’s comic-relief brother Karim (Mohammed Amer), and two of her colleagues: Samir and Ishmael (James Cusati-Moyer and Marwan Kenzari). I’ll cut to the chase: Samir dies fast and Ishmael is the villain. Is he working with Intergang? At the least, he wants the crown for himself. Adrianna gets it first, but then Intergang arrives and are about to put her to death; so, reading the ancient runes, she shouts the name “Shazam!” which awakens 5,000-year-old Teth-Adam, who dispatches the mercenaries without blinking an eye. I like how he demonstrates that he’s invulnerable, superstrong, superfast, can fly, and is able to fry a dude with his bare hands, and the reaction from the mercenaries is: “We need immediate backup!” Made me laugh out loud. Intergang must be recruiting from the 88%.
Hey, remember that asshole bureaucrat Viola Davis played in “Suicide Squad” and its sequel “The Suicide Squad”? Well, she’s back, and dourly sends the Justice Society to take care of Teth-Adam. Why are they making it their business? Because they have access to ancient texts that reveal Adam isn’t the pudgy kid but his father, and he killed a bunch of people 5,000 years ago. And? And that’s it. It’s the dipshit response to a dipshit situation. So send in the dipshits.
The Justice Society is the B team.
- Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), the leader, forever glowering, who seems to think he’s more powerful than he is.
- Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), the only interesting character in the movie; he can see the future and do Mysterio-type magic.
- Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), the nephew of the original Atom Smasher (Henry Winkler in a nice cameo), on his first assignment. He’s superstrong and can grow supertall, like Goliath. He’s comic relief, too. A clumsy adolescent.
- Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), who can control wind, has a high IQ, and is way, way too pleased with herself.
They show up, do dipshit battle with Adam. What’s the goal again? To convince him to stop being? Great plan, guys. Way to barter. Meanwhile, Adrianna’s super-annoying son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) acts as Adam’s press agent:
Amon: You definitely need a catchphrase. … I was thinking, like, “Tell them the Man in Black sent you.” And you wear a lot of black so we should really lean into that. My point is, you could be famous. Magazines, lunch boxes, video games. And the superhero industrial complex is worth a lot of money.
Adam: I don’t need a box for my lunch.
Did you catch it in Adam’s response? That flat, straightforward tone that doesn’t get the nuance or the joke? It took me a while to figure it out. It’s Drax from “Guardians of the Galaxy” who doesn’t understand metaphor, and who’s played by another former WWE star (Dave Bautista). Except Drax is actually funny. His lines are funny, his delivery is funny. None of this is. It’s just ripoff.
You’d think five superheroes would be able to take care of a paramilitary org pretty handily, but Justice Society keeps fighting Adam, which allows Ishmael time to machinate. When he can’t get the crown, he kidnaps Amon and threatens his life. Can’t Adam move at superspeed, though, and take him back? Sorry. Logic. Instead, they make the swap, Ishmael gets the crown, seems to get incinerated for his trouble, but he’s actually gone to, I guess, hell. There, he says SABBAC!, the evil version of SHAZAM!, and returns as an evil superpowered being to rule Kahndaq.
By this point, for no good reason, Black Adam has surrendered to Justice Society and been placed in a cryochamber in a black site beneath the ocean. (We get a pullback, a la “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” to see many rows of such cryochambers.) But Sabbac shows up so Dr. Fate resurrects him. At the same time, Dr. Fate is ruminating on a path to victory and foresees only a few options. In one, Hawkman dies. In another, he does. He opts for the second.
Wait, that’s the Doctor Strange/Iron Man dynamic in “Avengers: Endgame,” isn’t it? Christ, can’t these fuckers think of anything on their own? They not only steal but steal badly. We were with Iron Man for 10 years; his death meant something. We were with Dr. Fate, what, 90 minutes? Not even that. A few scenes. I'm reminded of when Paulie Walnuts stole that painting of Tony Soprano and his horse and put his own absurd stamp on it. That's what these guys do. “Black Adam” is the Paulie Walnuts of superhero movies.
There’s also an idiot third-act thing about Amon encouraging the people of Kahndaq to rise up and take on the easily take-on-able “Legion of Hell” skeletal warriors of Sabbac. It’s a totally unnecessary add-on, because when Adam and Sabbac battle, Adam rips him in half—literally—and that’s that; the Legion crumbles to dust. Afterwards, the U.S. tells Adam, “OK, you can live, but don’t leave Kahndaq!” and midcredits they send Superman (Henry Cavill) to talk with him. It’s just a cameo, five seconds maybe. We don't hear their talk—that might've been fun—but I guess it’s the last time we’ll ever see Cavill in the role. Shame. He was a great Superman, stuck in dipshit movies.
Here’s the thing: I like The Rock. I was overjoyed to see Sarah Shahi. When I watched “One Night in Miami” a few years back, I said that I could see Aldis Hodge becoming a star. And Warners somehow put all these elements together and created crap.
Jaume Collet-Serra directed. He’s done 12 features, and only one, “The Shallows,” has rated higher than 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, and most are way below that—with negative audience scores to boot. Yes, he’s given a tough task: introduce us to five superheroes and a 5,000-year-old backstory in one movie. But James Gunn could’ve done it. He did it with “Guardians.”
What happens when you make a dipshit superhero movie? You gross hundreds of millions of dollars but also lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars. “Black Adam” was a superhero movie packaged with an international box-office star and it only landed 14th in worldwide box office last year:
- 4. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”: $955
- 6. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”: $843
- 7. “The Batman”: $771
- 8. “Thor: Love and Thunder”: $760
- 14. “Black Adam”: $392
I guess the 88% only goes so far.