'Black Adam' Review: The Rock Has Godlike Powers... Good Enough

The Rock's debut as a superhero goes about exactly as you'd expect.
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Dwayne Johnson in a scene from "Black Adam."
Posted at 8:56 PM, Oct 18, 2022

Sometimes all a movie needs to get by is The Rock punching bad dudes through buildings and flinging them miles into the sky. Fortunately, "Black Adam" has plenty of that.

Let me get this disclaimer out of the way: I'm a lifelong fan of Dwayne Johnson/The Rock. I grew up watching live crowds eat out of the palm of his hand in WWE, as they recited his catchphrases on command (they still do whenever he returns for an appearance every once in a while). In his incredibly accomplished but relatively brief stint at the top of the professional wrestling world, he gave my childhood friends and me (and my mom, bless her heart, arguably a bigger fan than I am) countless exciting moments to remember. When he transitioned to Hollywood, his presence in a movie was enough to get me to buy a ticket; that remains largely the case. I admit I'm hardly an unbiased critic of his work, though I'm able to tell the difference between the projects he takes on that are entertaining and the ones that are actually competent.

"Black Adam" is largely the former, and enough of the latter for me to say this is one of the better entries into the DC Extended Universe. That's a very low bar, and a movie where a real-life superhero like The Rock plays a comically violent antihero in a big-budget, nonstop action fest should be the easiest thing in the world to not mess up. But given the history of the DCEU, credit is due to everyone involved for making this work more often than it doesn't.

After the obligatory exposition catching us up on the ancient lore of Black Adam, professor Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) awakens the godlike antihero who's been imprisoned in a slumber for thousands of years. He's understandably cranky, and his violent re-emergence leads the Justice Society of America (Aldis Hodge as Hawkman, Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate, Quintessa Swindell as Cyclone and Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher) to rein him in.

There's also a magical crown that can wreak literal hell on Earth if put in the wrong hands. Adrianna's son (Bodhi Sabongui) stores it for safekeeping in his backpack. You can see where that's headed.

Johnson and director Jaume Collet-Serra (who worked together on last year's "Jungle Cruise") pull this production off by playing to its strengths and staying away, for the most part, from its weaknesses. The screenplay will not be contending for any awards; nobody is mistaking this for a showcase of acting, and some of the jokes land as gracefully as those aforementioned bad guys Black Adam flings into oblivion (though I found the recurring comedic bits pretty effective). Like so many comic book adaptations

before this, The Rock doesn't need to be exploring the emotional weight of his responsibilities to humanity because of the immense powers bestowed upon him. Some of that is definitely going on here, but it takes a backseat for large portions of the movie in place of Black Adam indiscriminately murdering nameless henchmen in hilariously gratuitous ways, then just kind of shrugging when Hawkman tells him for the fifth time it's not only immoral but counterproductive to kill enemies instead of interrogating them for intel.

Hawkman and Black Adam's chemistry is a lot of fun, with a vibe that reminded me a little of Captain America and the Winter Soldier, or even Cap and Iron Man (calm down, I'm not saying it's nearly as good as those relationships, the clashing of styles is just reminiscent). Hodge feels like a movie star, with a character that probably deserves his own film, and Brosnan as Dr. Fate is perfection, though he could've had more to do.

The talent of the Justice Society actors complementing the charisma of The Rock as a performer makes "Black Adam" exactly what it needs to be: a fun, dumb time at the movies. A summer release would have been more appropriate. It looks exceptional, too, which is only notable because of how shoddy the CGI has been in recent big budget comic book productions, like this current phase of the MCU. On that note, in general, the recent mediocrity of the MCU and consistent mess of the DCEU is really working in "Black Adam"'s favor. Simply knowing your audience and meeting expectations can go a long way.