Despite The Batman arriving in March of this year, it seems like ages since Warner Discovery has released a DC film in theaters. I’m sure it didn’t help that the studio has been involved in a mile-long list of controversies throughout the year. Still, it’s time to actually get back to the business of making movies and entertaining DC’s loyal fanbase. So, as David Zaslav and crew traverse the couch cushions for whatever loose change can be found to promote their only remaining DCEU film in 2022, the weight of an entire studio now rests on the broad shoulders of Dwayne Johnson. But America’s babyface probably wouldn’t want it any other way, as The Rock has been chomping at the bit to play DC supervillain Black Adam, real name Teth-Adam, for what seems like a decade now. He has vowed to, eventually, do battle with Black Adam’s arch nemesis, Shazam, in a future movie. He’s also challenged Henry Cavill’s Superman to an on-screen duel.
But most importantly, Johnson has displayed an impeccable amount of confidence in this character: it was his insistence to push the studio to greenlight a feature film centered around the comic book baddie, as opposed to his screen debut coming as the antagonist in a Shazam! movie. Yet, the jury is still out on if Black Adam is worth all the prep work. The character has a rich comic history, often teaching the lesson of how power can be corrupted in the wrong hands. The most modern interpretation of the character’s origin sees him on a vengeful quest to make civilization pay for once enslaving his people, and he will stop at nothing to satiate that bloodlust, even if it comes at the expense of his own family.
Once granted his powers by the wizard Shazam, Black Adam was free to unleash his hate. His turn to the dark side is often depicted as a shock to the wizard granting him the powers, as the anointing was intended with more noble deeds in mind. By contrast, Billy Batson was chosen to be Shazam almost as a response to how terribly Black Adam’s ascension went, as Billy was seen as a young boy with a kind heart. In a sense, Shazam is somewhat the Luke Skywalker to Black Adam’s Darth Vader, without the familial twists, of course. Thus, these two super powerhouses have a common link and an ideological difference worth fighting over. However, Black Adam has also appeared in various DC media over the years, crossing paths with the likes of Batman and Superman.
The Rock has often gushed about how the character’s story struck a chord with him, inspiring his desire for a film all to himself. The question is, will the feature film version of this character resonate with audiences? The promotion has been a mixed bag, as the original trailer received a lukewarm response. That was the one where Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) says, “Heroes don’t kill people!” To which Black Adam retorts, “Well, I do.”
However, trailer two recently dropped and was a notable improvement on its predecessor. So here, we finally get to the meat of the story:
It’s here that we finally get a glimpse into the character’s backstory, with the knowledge that Teth-Adam lost a child, presumably while enslaved, and is still mourning that loss. However, I think the trailer is potentially holding back on another reveal that will be even more in line with the character’s modern interpretation. We also see in the trailer that the Justice Society will be after Black Adam, attempting to end his rampage on present-day earth. This version of the Justice Society will include the aforementioned Hawkman, Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan). Fate’s introduction potentially opens the door for an even more significant expansion of the DC universe; he’s a skilled sorcerer that is often seen as the DC equivalent of Marvel’s Doctor Strange. In fact, this team, in general, is pretty OP, calling into question just how powerful this version of Black Adam will be if it requires a squad this gifted and skillful to combat him.
Moreover, there are still many questions about where Black Adam will land on the DCEU chess board. Will this end like a Fast & Furious movie, with the bad guy inexplicably becoming a good guy? The seeds are definitely being planted for that in the latest trailer, as evidenced by Fate’s wise words to Black Adam. However, what will that mean for potential clashes the character could have with the likes of Shazam and Superman? However, this could all be a fake-out, and the title character may end up doubling down on their villainy, establishing Johnson as the featured bad guy in the DCEU. But then that begs the question, how will this movie end in order to satisfy that distinction? Finally, it’s entirely possible that Warner just hedges their bets with the character, refusing to define him as friend or foe, leading to contradictory behavior, undefined stakes, and leaving audiences confused about how they should feel about the guy.
I’m still not entirely sold on this being an excellent blockbuster film. On the one hand, it will be a visual spectacle to see the various members of the Justice Society, with each member potentially having their own scene-stealing showcase. But trepidation still lies in whether The Rock and director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, Jungle Cruise) will successfully adapt Black Adam into a compelling lead character. Also, per the trailer, former Suicide Squad head Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is back in what is likely set-up for establishing her on-screen relationship with the Justice League, just like in the comics. Hopefully, her role is more substantial than being an exposition dump or teasing for future movies. In a way, that’s my concern with the movie’s entire premise – is it a worthwhile standalone film? Or will it just be a 2-hour advertisement for future installments, inspiring audiences, in vain, to scream “SHAZAM!” to save us in more ways than one?
Black Adam hits theaters, including large format screens, everywhere on October 21, 2022.