Comics have been around a long time now. Some of the original characters are closing in on eighty years of history, if not longer. The ones who have stuck around have, as a rule, have their histories rewritten, their personalities and motivations changed. Black Adam’s history began with his first appearance back in 1945, and he has evolved over time from a flat-out villain, mirror opposite of a powerful hero, to an anti-hero with an actual history. Dwayne Johnson, despite being a celebrity movie star, spent over a decade trying to bring the character to the big screen. Finally, he succeeded, with the theatrical release of Black Adam.
Johnson’s version goes with the more recent developments of the character: an anti-hero, protector of Kahndaq, one of DC Comics’ many fictional countries. Teth-Adam, his original name, is one of the most physically powerful beings in the DC Universe. Despite Johnson’s claims in various interviews, Adam doesn’t have all the same powers as Superman, but they are physically on par, I’d agree with that. In recent years, the characters connected to the wizard Shazam have also gained the ability to wield magic lightning as a weapon.
In this version of events, Kahndaq has been under the dominion of Intergang, a scientifically advanced criminal organization that, in the comics, usually pesters Superman. Teth-Adam has become something of a myth, not seen in 5,000 years. An archeologist named Adriana (a very different version of a comic book character, played by Sarah Shahi, who was on Person of Interest among other shows) is desperately trying to safeguard some powerful magic from Intergang, and, in the course of a struggle, ends up summoning Teth-Adam. A hugely powerful being suddenly appearing in an unstable region gets the attention of a lot of important people, and this leads to both familiar characters and new ones. Amanda Waller, of Suicide Squad fame, decides she needs to take action.
Waller is in contact with the Justice Society, and they agree to go try and contain the situation. We get enough of a sense of history to know the JSA has been around at least for a generation by way of a cameo I hadn’t heard anything about. Why they haven’t been talked about before is never touched on. This version consists of two newcomers, Atom Smasher and Cyclone, who are apparently second generation (at least) heroes, who join Hawkman (Aldis Hodge of Leverage and City On A Hill) and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan). This is the smallest version of the JSA I’ve ever seen, and for those keeping track, the fourth live action version of them, although the first on the big screen.
The JSA journey to Kahndaq and confront Teth-Adam, who is having some difficulties with the modern world, although not as many as you might expect. Hawkman comes on far too strong, making a lot of things worse, and Adriana calls out the JSA on some of the hypocrisy of their actions and attitudes. She makes some excellent points in her speech.
Eventually, to no great surprise, the JSA and Adam end up working together. Adam even agrees with some of the demands placed on him, which leads to another cameo by a familiar face from a recent tv show and movie. The heroes (and Adam, who insists he’s not a hero throughout the movie) fight a new menace that emerges, another adaptation of an old Shazam-connected character, or actually an amalgamation of two of them. There’s a massive final fight, not everyone makes it through, and we see a new status quo by the end. As is pretty much a requirement of superhero movies now, thanks to the efforts of the MCU, there is a scene in the credits, which involves a cameo by arguably the best-known hero in the world, and a setup for possible future conflict.
What I Liked: I’ve always been a fan of the original Captain Marvel, and the characters related to him win some affection by association. Dwayne Johnson is always fun to watch in an action movie. Aldis Hodge and Pierce Brosnan did amazing jobs as Hawkman and Dr. Fate. I liked the cameos and connections to other DC projects, both as world building, something I’m a huge fan of, and because they actually made sense and didn’t feel forced. There were a few good plot twists I didn’t see coming, and they gave some depth to the main character. Adriana calling the JSA on their actions, and inaction, was a great plot point.
What I Didn’t: I get it happening on several levels, but I really don’t like the big death near the end. There was a big scene that involved Teth-Adam escaping from something that really didn’t make a lot of sense the way it played out. I’m hoping we get to see more of the JSA than this very reduced group, and learn some more of their history in the DC movies. And maybe have it explained why Dr. Fate at the very least was never referenced in some of the earlier major events.
I grant this is a low bar, but this is better than a lot of what DC has put out for movies. I enjoyed it, and would happily watch more of Black Adam, the JSA, or both. I’ll give this a 3.5 out of 5. It will be interesting to see where the DCEU (terrible abbreviation) goes from here.