Big changes are coming to the DC universe now that James Gunn and Peter Safran have taken over as the new heads of DC Studios. Those changes will begin this year with the new Flash movie, which will be the company’s answer to Marvel Studios’ multiverse. The movie will completely reset the entire DC cinematic (and television) universe. New movies centered on Superman and Supergirl alike are already planned for the new universe, as well as a new Batman movie. Swamp Thing is even getting a new try on the big screen under the watchful eyes of Gunn and Safran while Blue Beetle is getting its first ever outing, and Aquaman is getting at least one more outing. Beyond that, little else is known about the cinematic side of things for DC Studios.
The uncertainty of DC Studios’ future beyond its first phase is important to note due to the results of two of its most recent connected movies, Shazam: Fury of the Gods and Black Adam. Neither proved a success at the box office, with the latter resulting in an even worse result than the former in regard to their respective ticket sales. While audiences wait to find out whether stars Zachary Levi (Shazam) and Dwayne Johnson (Black Adam) will finally face off down the road, they can at least take in Black Adam on 4K UHD/Blu-ray combo pack, Blu-ray and DVD. Released to its home physical platforms Jan. 3, the movie proves itself a movie worth watching at least once that also opens the door for future movies leading up to a bigger Justice Society movie. The movie proves itself worth watching at least once because of its story, which will be discussed shortly. The bonus content that accompanies the movie in its home physical release adds to the reason for audiences to watch the movie. This will be discussed a little later. The cast’s work on camera adds its own share of engagement and entertainment, too, so it will also be discussed later. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of Black Adam. All things considered they make Black Adam maybe not the best of DC Studios’ offerings but also not its worst.
Black Adam was one of the last movies to be entered into the DCEU before the entrance of James Gunn and Peter Safras as the new heads of DC Studios and while not a great movie, it also is not the worst of DC Studios’ previous generation. As a matter of fact, it actually is worth watching at least once. That is due in part to its story. The story is simple: Black Adam is freed from his prison of sorts after more than 5,000 years because a professor named Adrianna (played by Sarah Shahi – Alias, Old School, Bullet to the Head) summons him. She summons him because she and her brother, Karim (Mohammed Amer – Mo, Americanish), are about to be killed by a group of mercenaries. As a result of him being freed from his prison (He was put in the prison by the same wizards whose powers would eventually be the source of Shazam’s own power), Black Adam is still very angry and takes out his anger on those mercenaries. From there, he goes on to face off against the members of the Justice Society, who are there to essentially apprehend him because of the danger that he poses in their eyes. The danger lies in what the Justice Society knows about Black Adam’s history. At first the two sides are at odds, but as the bigger story unfolds, Black Adam ends up on the side of the Justice Society just as he occasionally would in the comics world, in order to stop an evil force from the pits of Hell. Of course, the collective ends up defeating the big bad in the end when they put aside their differences and finally fight together, and honestly the story is tied up nicely. To that end, the concerns raised in the media about whether a sequel will ever come for Black Adam under the new DC Studios regime really should be a moot point. Yes, there could be a second movie, but the way in which the story closes, it does just as well as a standalone story. Add in that in the comics realm, Black Adam only comes into focus every now and then, and that negates the need for an immediate sequel.
Throughout the course of the story, the writing team of Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani does well to make sure Black Adam’s turn and the Justice Society’s role in that turn does not cause the story to get bogged down in itself. That is definitely to be applauded. There could have been so much ruminating on Adam’s history, but thankfully, the trio of writers save that back story for a brief sequence late in the story, allowing instead, the bigger story play out first. It all plays out so well.
Another side item worth noting in the story is the subtle political commentary addressing America’s involvement in foreign nations. The topic comes up more than once, the most notable moment coming as Adrianna chides Hawkman (Aldis Hodge – Die Hard with a Vengeance, One Night in Miami…, Hidden Figures) for the Justice Society’s sudden appearance in Kahndaq after no outside nation had come to the country for decades, allowing the country to be controlled for such a long time. This is just one of a handful of moments when the topic is addressed and thankfully does not overpower the story, either, but certainly cannot be ignored.
Now for all of the good that the writing team does in this story, it is not entirely perfect. There are some plot holes so to speak, the most notable being why exactly Adrianna is even searching for the crown in the first place. She makes the statement at one point that the crown belonged in a museum, so was that why she wanted to find the cursed powerful crown? This is never really explained away, and in turn does create some problems in the story’s bigger picture. Ironically, if not for her search for the crown, Black Adam might never have been woken and Kahndaq might never had been liberated from the mercenaries and their evil grip. To that end, one could argue that this somewhat negates that primary plot hole. Keeping that in mind, it is easy to argue that the writing exhibited in Black Adam is for the most part a positive that works well for the movie’s presentation.
Building on the foundation formed through Black Adam’s writing is the bonus content that accompanies the movie in its home release. The bonus content is presented on the movie’s Blu-ray disc in its 4K UHD/BD combo pack and obviously on the BD disc on the standalone Blu-ray format. This is important to note because as this critic has noted so many times previously in other reviews, 4K technology is still so cost prohibitive today that not everyone has a 4K UHD BD player and/or TV. Most people have Blu-ray players and standard hi-def monitors. So by placing the bonus content on the BD disc on both platforms ensures a wider range of viewers will get to take in said content.
Now keeping all of this in mind, there is plenty of bonus content for everyone to enjoy, beginning with the separate bonus features focusing on the history of Black Adam and the Justice Society in the comics realm. The separate features serve as wonderful starting points for those viewers who might be less familiar with their histories. In learning said histories, those noted viewers could ultimately end up becoming new fans of both properties and end up looking for the original comics. On another note, learning through both features that Johnson himself is a lifelong comic book fan is another positive for the comic book community. That is because people who are fans of Johnson but who might have otherwise not been fans of comic books might now be encouraged to become fans themselves. The “making of” featurette – titled here, “From Soul to Screen” adds even more depth to the viewing experience as it takes audiences into more depth in the movie. Audiences will be especially interested to learn here, that instead of just using so much green screen and special effects, the movie’s crew and creative heads opted instead for another technology to help make each scene more realistic in its look, and it pays off greatly, too. The tech in question is something known as LED screens. The screens play the actual backgrounds that are used throughout the movie. They allow the cast to actually see what they otherwise would have had to envision with a green screen, which clearly plays into not only the look of the movie, but the cast’s performance.
Speaking of the cast’s performance, the ability to see what they are doing in each scene definitely plays into the appeal of the cast’s work. It is just part of what plays into that appeal, too. Even in moments when the LED screens are not being overly used, the cast puts on plenty of enjoyable performances, not the least of comes from Noah Centineo (The Perfect Date, Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before). Centineo plays the part of Atom Smasher, one of the younger members of the Justice Society’s current makeup. He essentially serves as the cast’s comic relief throughout the movie, but in doing so he makes the most of his time on screen. There is something about his comic timing that harkens to Tobey Maguire’s take of Peter Parker in Marvel’s Sam Raimi-helmed Spiderman movies. Not to mention a movie from another studio and comic book company, but the comparison is inescapable. That certain lack of confidence even as he is trying to learn the ropes makes for plenty of enjoyment. Centineo could have hammed it up in his moments on screen, but he opts for the less is more approach, making for so much enjoyment. One can only hope that should a Justice Society movie be part of DC Studios’ future schedule, he will be part of that movie. It would be interesting to see a more developed persona for Atom Smasher, should that happen. No doubt he would do well.
Quintessa Swindell (Voyagers, Master Gardener), who takes on the role of another younger Justice Society member named Cyclone, puts on just as much of an enjoyable performance even though she seems to get even less screen time and even lines. She spends more time as a supporting character, but in the few moments she gets to interact with her cast mates, she does an admirable job. One of those very rare moments comes as she explains to Atom Smasher how she got her powers. As with Centineo, hopefully she will have more presence in the future, should a standalone Justice Society movie be in the cards.
Pierce Brosnan (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, Mrs. Doubtfire) deserves just as much applause as he takes on the role of Dr. Fate. His calm demeanor even in the most tense situations makes him an expert counter to Hodge’s more intense performance as Hawkman. The counterpoint that the two create through their respective performances shows a definite chemistry between the actors off screen. That apparent chemistry makes for so much enjoyment watching the duo share lines.
The members of the Justice Society are not the only cast members who deserve credit for their work. Johnson deserves his own share of applause as the movie’s titular character. The controlled demeanor that he presents as Black Adam is first awoken is actually quite powerful in its subtlety. He could have so easily just done the typical thing and gone all out as has been done in so many situations in other movies by other actors. Thankfully he did no go that route, instead showing that brewing, controlled anger. It makes Black Adam come across as that much more dangerous right from the outset. That is because even as powerful and destructive as he is, he does not necessarily show a lot of deference to anyone, save for Adrianna. It is a great way to set up Black Adam especially as Adam’s change takes place over the course of the story.
On another note, his deadpan delivery about showing respect to prisoners as Adam tries to show sarcasm is so subdued, and that actually makes for another funny moment that real fans will find enjoyable. On a similar note, his dogged determination to find Amon (Bodhi Sabongui – The Baby-Sitters Club, A Million Little Things) is just as powerful. That is because even as clear as it is that he is determined to catch Amon’s kidnappers, there is a certain control in Adam’s presence. Again, in so many other similar style action flicks, such sequences are over blown, but in this case, the control that he gives Adam actually makes his concern for Amon so wonderfully understated, and that makes for its own appeal for Adam. Between these moments and others throughout the movie, Johns proves his performance is just as engaging and entertaining as those presented by his cast mates. All things considered, the cast’s overall work throughout the movie makes for just as much appeal for this presentation as the movie’s story and its bonus content. That overall content comes together to make Black Adam a movie that deserves to be seen at least once.
Black Adam, one of the last of DC Studios’ movies released prior to DCU’s forthcoming reset, is an interesting finale note to the company’s previous cinematic realm. It is not the company’s best nor worst entries and deserves to be seen at least once. That is proven in part through its relatively simple story, which tells how Black Adam became an unsuspecting her in the modern world even despite (and because of) his past. It makes him an anti-hero figure that audiences will root for because of his imperfections. People, for some reason, go for that brooding style persona, and will here, too. The story does not waste a lot of time setting things up or even ruminating on Black Adam’s motivations and feelings, either. Those discussions are there, but thankfully are limited in their use. This makes for solid pacing, and in turn, sustained engagement and entertainment for audiences. The bonus material that accompanies the movie in its home physical release adds to the interest in the movie. That is because of the background that it provides on a variety of topics, including and not limited to the comic book history of Black Adam and the Justice Society. The bonus content that focuses on the movie’s production elements makes for its own interest and in turn increases that engagement and entertainment. The cast’s overall work builds even more on the presentation, with each main actor giving his and her own enjoyable performance. Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of the movie’s presentation. All things considered they make Black Adam a movie that while not the best or worst of DC Studios’ offerings in recent years, a presentation that is still a mostly enjoyable superhero flick.
Black Adam is available on 4K UHD/BD combo pack, Blu-ray, and DVD. More information on this and other cinematic offerings from DC is available at:
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