Black Adam Is Not The Rock, And That's a Good Thing

Black Adam is the best superhero movie of 2022 behind Matt Reeves' The Batman.

Let me start with a confession. I’m not a fan of The Rock. I don’t hate or dislike him, I just don’t enjoy the fact that he essentially plays himself in every movie he’s in. Whether it’s as a Diplomatic Security Service agent who rides fast and furious cars or as an archaeologist with a smoldering smile trying to escape a board game, it’s basically still just Dwayne Johnson. Impeccably funny, eminently likable, and built like a truck. So when Johnson was announced as Black Adam in 2014, my excitement meter only moved because I actually like Black Adam from the comics and the fact that there was finally going to be a live action version for the big screen. That he would be played by the Rock made sure my excitement would be kept to a minimum.

Fast forward to 2022. Johnson explodes from his mystical tomb on an IMAX screen and proceeds to annihilate heavily armed members of Intergang, an organized crime syndicate from the pages of the comics. Intergang has been ruling the Egypt-like nation of Khandaq for 27 years like a police state and a short sequence after the ancient times prologue makes it clear that these guys are real jerks. So when Black Adam burns one from the inside out with magic lightning, I don’t feel too guilty for not really caring.

In fact, I actually kind of enjoy it. That’s when I realize that I’m not watching The Rock anymore. I’m watching Black Adam, and boy, I’m having a lot of fun. For context, I’ve always been more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan because the big guns of DC draw the line at killing people. At least they’re supposed to, which is why the first iterations of the Snyderverse rubbed me the wrong way, but that’s another story altogether. My point is, I don’t like seeing people—even bad guys—die in my comic book movies. So when I found myself laughing as Black Adam brutally crushed an entire regiment of Intergang, I knew I was in for one hell of a ride.


This isn’t Dwayne Johnson. This is Teth-Adam, the Kahndaqi slave whose family was killed and was bestowed with the powers of the gods. Initially created as an archnemesis of Shazam, Black Adam was later redefined as an antihero who didn’t have the same scruples as Superman or Batman. And now there he was, Teth-Adam, larger-than-life and absolutely destroying anything that crossed his path, including the Justice Society of America consisting of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). 

The four heroes are sent by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to contain Black Adam before he obliterates all of Shiruta, Kahndaq’s capital city, with his unbridled rage and unchecked power. It’s tempting to dismiss the JSA as some dollar store knockoff of the Justice League, but the JSA actually predates the JL and its heroes mesh in a way that the DCEU’s Justice League never did.

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It’s immensely fun to see Hawkman’s cocky, arrogant alpha male energy clash with Black Adam’s unbent confidence. Doctor Fate is possibly cooler in every way than Marvel’s Doctor Strange, at the very least he’s a mystical superhero who can make wearing a cigar smoking jacket as classy as wearing a mystical golden cape. Centineo is goofy and lovable as the rookie Atom Smasher, and his chemistry with Swindell’s adorable Cyclone is cute and charming without feeling forced.

The JSA come together really, really well as a team and is an absolute visual delight. Cyclone’s brightly colored costume and balletic swirling winds complements Doctor Fate’s multi-fractal magic. A bumbling, building-sized Atom Smasher trying to stop cars smaller than his feet from crashing into each other is amusing and endearing. Hawkman improbably going toe-to-toe with Black Adam, flying through the air, crashing through buildings, and making things explode left and right is incredibly exciting.

Credit goes to Spanish-American director Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously directed Johnson in Disney’s Jungle Cruise, for taking so many disparate parts and making it absolutely work. The middle eastern setting of Kahndaq feels familiar, an analog for the many oppressed and war-torn nations largely ignored and forgotten by the rest of the world. The people of Kahndaq have been ruled by a criminal syndicate that stripped their nation of Eternium, kind of like the DCEU’s Vibranium, for decades without getting help from superheroes. When Black Adam wakes up from a five thousand year nap, the Kahndaqi are simply overjoyed to have someone to help break the chains that have just kept changing hands over the course of history. So what if he burns bad guys to a crisp or routinely toss them miles away? It’s all fair game for a people that don’t have the luxury of mercy.

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It’s a slippery slope, and although Black Adam crosses the line frequently and with gusto in the beginning, it’s his inevitable bond with activist professor Adrianna’s (Sarah Shahi) skateboarding DC fanboy son Amon (Bodhi Sabongui) that makes him turn the corner. A humorous exchange between Black Adam and Adrianna about the use of violence is a sort of prelude to Adrianna’s calming influence over Adam when she finally turns into the superhero Isis in the inevitable sequel. Is it a cop-out? Why can’t Johnson commit to Black Adam’s antiheroism like Marvel’s Wolverine or the Punisher? Ultimately, Black Adam’s hard edges are softened because of this PG-rated bond with a wisecracking, charismatic kid who tries to teach him catchphrases. But it’s really not that big a deal because you can be sure that Black Adam will tear enemies in half if the need arises, anyway.

Amon exudes exactly the same energy as Billy Batson (Asher Angel) from Shazam! which is almost certainly intentional given how Black Adam is essentially Shazam’s twisted mirror image. Speaking of Shazam, watch out for Zachary Levi’s interesting cameo in the film, which certainly brings Black Adam into the greater locus of the DCEU. Needless to say, if it hasn’t been spoiled for you yet, stay for the mid-credits scene, which elicited the strongest and wildest reactions from the crowd. 

Photo by WARNER BROS..

Black Adam is the best superhero movie of 2022 behind Matt Reeves’ The Batman. There’s definitely humor—the casting of Palestinian-American stand up comic Mohammed Amer as Adrianna’s brother Karim ensures that—but it’s dispensed in small, easily digestible doses. There might be thunder and lightning, but this definitely isn’t Thor. If there’s one weak spot in an otherwise enjoyable superhero romp, it’s the music. Lorne Balfe, a Hans Zimmer protege, doesn’t quite hit the right notes with oftentimes obtrusive song choices and a disjointed score.


I didn’t mention the film’s big bad, Sabbac (Marwan Kenzari), because he’s pretty forgettable and only appears towards the very end. Supposedly the demonic counterpart to Shazam, Sabbac is your run-of-the-mill, world ending emissary from hell who animates some run-of-the-mill demon skeletons for some run-of-the-mill people of Kahndaq vs evil minions action. It’s not terribly exciting, the stakes don’t feel very high, but it’s a serviceable gravy to the climax.

After 124 minutes of stoic floating, wall-smashing, superhero fighting, demon-splitting, and middle eastern country liberating, I’m still not a fan of Dwayne Johnson. But I do like Black Adam. After you watch the film, I have a feeling you might, too. 

Black Adam is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

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Hugo Zacarias Yonzon IV
Zach Yonzon is a cake artist and co-owner of Bunny Baker
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